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The Red Badge of Courage [1895]

Section Index

  1. Summary
  2. Quotes from the Text
  3. On the Author
  4. Thoughts and Questions on the Text
  5. Text and Web Resources

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Crane. The Red Badge of Courage

1. Summary

Civil War era America is the setting of American writer Stephen Crane's classic story of young Henry Fleming, who joins the Union Army and matures in the process of fighting and experiencing battle. The story begins in an encampment near a river where the 304th regiment is waiting in anticipation of a battle. When his troops are finally sent into action Henry feels great apprehension as he is thinking of what he will do during battle. Throughout the book, we learn about Henry's thoughts, so you could probably call this novel a psychological story. As he marches he feels infuriation at the generals for sending him and his regiment to be slaughtered.

So he runs from his first battle along with several others from his regiment. He feels great regret for running. As he wanders around he meets up with a wounded soldier from his regiment named Jim Conklin who tells him the regiment held back the rebel advancement. He helps Jim for a short while until Jim dies. Then he heads back to his regiment but is caught up in a fleeing band of a different regiment. He is hit in the head. When two soldiers help him up and walk with him they direct him toward his regiment. When back in his regiment he says that he was way over to the right and got hit in the head with a bullet. Wilson, a fellow soldier, lets him sleep in his covers.

In the morning he finds out that the regiment will be in another battle. During this battle to prove his courage Henry fights very angrily. After the battle Wilson and Henry go to get water but hear the general talking about the 304th charging the rebels. Wilson and Henry return to tell the rest of the regiment. After they tell the general comes and gives the orders to charge the rebels. When the flag bearer is shot Henry takes up the colors and leads the charge. The charge is unsuccessful but Henry still bears the flag. Another battle takes place where the regiment has set up encampment. When they win Henry feels that he has proved himself a man.

2. Quotes From the Text


"An' allus be careful an' choose yer comp'ny. There's lots of bad men in the army, Henry. The army makes 'em wild, and they like nothing better than the job of leading off a young feller like you, as ain't never been away from home much and has allus had a mother, an' a-learning 'em to drink and swear. Keep clear of them folks, Henry. I don't want yeh to ever do anything, Henry, that yeh would be 'shamed to let me know about. Jest think as if I was a-watchin' yeh. If yeh keep that in yer mind allus, I guess yeh'll come out about right. / Yeh must allus remember yer father, too, child, an' remember he never drunk a drop of licker in his life, and seldom swore a cross oath. / I don't know what else to tell yeh, Henry, excepting that yeh must never do no shirking, child, on my account. If so be a time comes when yeh have to be kilt or do a mean thing, why, Henry, don't think of anything 'cept what's right, because there's many a woman has to bear up 'ginst sech things these times, and the Lord 'll take keer of us all. / Don't forgit about the socks and the shirts, child; and I've put a cup of blackberry jam with yer bundle, because I know yeh like it above all things. Good-by, Henry. Watch out, and be a good boy." [6]

(Past & Present)

"Greeklike struggles would be no more. Men were better, or more timid. Secular and religious education had effaced the throat-grappling instinct, or else firm finance held in check the passions. / He had grown to regard himself merely as a part of a vast blue demonstration. His province was to look out, as far as he could, for his personal comfort. For recreation he could twiddle his thumbs and speculate on the thoughts which must agitate the minds of the generals. Also, he was drilled and drilled and re-viewed, and drilled and drilled and reviewed." [7]

"And they were men" [84]


"Previously he had never felt obliged to wrestle too seriously with this question. In his life he had taken certain things for granted, never challenging his belief in ultimate success, and bothering little about means and roads. But here he was confronted with a thing of moment. It had suddenly appeared to him that perhaps in a battle he might run. He was forced to admit that as far as war was concerned he knew nothing of himself." [8]


"From across the river the red eyes were still peering." [12]

"From this little distance the many fires, with the black forms of men passing to and fro before the crimson rays, made weird and satanic effects." [14]

"They were going to look at war, the red animal--war, the blood-swollen god." [19]

"Then, upon this stillness, there suddenly broke a tremendous clangor of sounds. A crimson roar came from the distance." [37]

"At times he regarded the wounded soldiers in an envious way. He conceived persons with torn bodies to be peculiarly happy. He wished that he, too, had a wound, a red badge of courage." [41]

"He had rid himself of the red sickness of battle." [98]

(The Flag)

"Within him, as he hurled himself forward, was born a love, a despairing fondness for this flag which was near him. It was a creation of beauty and invulnerability. It was a goddess, radiant, that bended its form with an imperious gesture to him. It was a woman, red and white, hating and loving, that called him with the voice of his hopes. Because no harm could come to it he en-dowed it with power. He kept near, as if it could be a saver of lives, and an imploring cry went from his mind." [80]


"He must look to the grave for comprehension." [22]

" 'I'm a gone coon this first time and--and I w-want you to take these here things--to--my--folks.' He ended in a quavering sob of pity for himself. He handed the youth a little packet done up in a yellow envelope. 'Why, what the devil-' began the youth again. / But the other gave him a glance as from the depths of a tomb, and raised his limp hand in a prophetic manner and turned away." [22]


"As he perceived this fact it occurred to him that he had never wished to come to the war. He had not enlisted of his free will. He had been dragged by the merciless government. And now they were taking him out to be slaughtered." [18]

"Absurd ideas took hold upon him. He thought that he did not relish the landscape. It threatened him. A coldness swept over his back, and it is true that his trousers felt to him that they were no fit for his legs at all. / A house standing placidly in distant fields had to him an ominous look. The shadows of the woods were formidable. He was certain that in this vista there lurked fierce-eyed hosts. The swift thought came to him that the generals did not know what they were about. It was all a trap. Suddenly those close forests would bristle with rifle barrels. Ironlike brigades would appear in the rear. They were all going to be sacrificed. The generals were stupids. The enemy would presently swallow the whole command. He glared about him, expecting to see the stealthy approach of his death." [19]

"There was a singular absence of heroic poses. The men bending and surging in their haste and rage were in every impossible attitude. The steel ramrods clanked and clanged with incessant din as the men pounded them furiously into the hot rifle barrels. The flaps of the cartridge boxes were all unfastened, and bobbed idiotically with each movement. The rifles, once loaded, were jerked to the shoulder and fired without apparent aim into the smoke or at one of the blurred and shifting forms which upon the field before the regiment had been growing larger and larger like puppets under a magician's hand." [27]


"He had fled, he told himself, because annihilation approached. He had done a good part in saving himself, who was a little piece of the army. He had considered the time, he said, to be one in which it was the duty of every little piece to rescue itself if possi-ble. Later the officers could fit the little pieces together again, and make a battle front. If none of the little pieces were wise enough to save themselves from the flurry of death at such a time, why, then, where would be the army? It was all plain that he had proceeded according to very correct and commendable rules. His actions had been sagacious things. They had been full of strategy. They were the work of a master's legs." [34]

(Nature / Squirrel)

"Off was the rumble of death. It seemed now that Nature had no ears. / This landscape gave him assurance. A fair field holding life. It was the religion of peace. It would die if its timid eyes were compelled to see blood. He conceived Nature to be a woman with a deep aversion to tragedy. / He threw a pine cone at a jovial squirrel, and he ran with chattering fear. High in a treetop he stopped, and, poking his head cautiously from behind a branch, looked down with an air of trepidation. / The youth felt trium-phant at this exhibition. There was the law, he said. Nature had given him a sign. The squirrel, immediately upon recognizing danger, had taken to his legs without ado. He did not stand stolidly baring his furry belly to the missile, and die with an upward glance at the sympathetic heavens. On the contrary, he had fled as fast as his legs could carry him; and he was but an ordinary squirrel, too--doubtless no philosopher of his race. The youth wended, feeling that Nature was of his mind. She re-enforced his argument with proofs that lived where the sun shone." [35]


"He suddenly lost concern for himself, and forgot to look at a menacing fate. He became not a man but a member. [..] There was a consciousness always of the presence of his comrades about him. He felt the subtle battle brotherhood more potent even than the cause for which they were fighting. It was a mysterious fraternity born of the smoke and danger of death. [26]

3. On the Author

CRANE, Stephen (1871-1900), American novelist and poet, one of the first American exponents of the naturalistic style of writing. Crane was born Nov. 1, 1871, in Newark, N.J., and educated at Lafayette College and Syracuse University. He went to New York City in 1890 and became a free-lance reporter in the slums. From his work and his own penniless existence in the Bowery, he drew material for his first novel, Maggie, a Girl of the Streets (1893), which he published privately under the pseudonym Johnston Smith. Although the work won praise from the writers Hamlin Garland and William Dean Howells, it was unsuccessful. Crane's next novel, The Red Badge of Courage (1895), gained international recognition as a penetrating, realistic psychological study of a young soldier in the American Civil War.

Although Crane had never experienced military service, the understanding of the ordeals of combat that he revealed in this work induced various American and foreign newspapers to hire him as a correspondent during the Greco-Turkish War (1897) and the Spanish-American War (1898). Shipwrecked while accompanying an expedition from the U.S. to Cuba in 1896, Crane suffered privations that eventually brought on tuberculosis. His experience was described in the title story of his collection The Open Boat and Other Stories (1898). He settled in England in 1897; his private life, which included several extramarital affairs, had caused gossip in the U.S. In England he was befriended by the writers Joseph Conrad and Henry James. His writings fill 12 volumes. He died at the age of 28 on June 5, 1900, in Badenweiler, Germany.

Crane's naturalistic portrayals are pessimistic and brutal, yet the stark realism is relieved by his poetic charm and sympathetic understanding of character. Crane was also an innovator in verse techniques. His two volumes of poetry, The Black Riders and Other Lines (1895) and War Is Kind and Other Poems (1899), are important early examples of experimental free verse. Among his other writings are Active Service (1899), Whilomville Stories (1900), and Wounds in the Rain (1900). Crane's collected letters were published in 1954.

(source: InfoPedia / Funk & Wagnalls Encyclopedia)

4. Thoughts and Questions on the Text

  • Colors: The book seems to rely on the use of colors like a painting. What colors are these and what is their function?

  • In how far is the book a Naturalist text?

  • What image of war is illustrated by the text? How is the haze of battle portrayed? How are the fellow soldiers introduced

The Listserv questions:

  • How is history constructed in these texts in contrast to the non-fictitious accounts we have discussed so far? What part or incidents or processes are moved to the forground in these texts? What can fiction achieve in constructing history that non-fiction cannot?

  • What does a close reading of these fictional texts reveal with regard to the central notions or ideological concepts that historians like Brinkley, McPherson as well as officers, soldiers and civilians thematize in the materials we read as there were: courage and fear, war and death, battle and desertion, the flag?

5. Text and Web Resources:

(All internet links last checked and accessed July 27th 2000)

July 22nd/27th, 2000

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