The Red Badge of Courage, Stephen Crane’s second novel (Maggie: A Girl of the Streets had appeared under a pseudonym in 1893) and his most famous work, has often been considered the first truly modern war novel. The war is the American Civil War, and the battle is presumed to be the one fought at Chancellorsville, though neither the war nor the battle is named in the novel. Further, there is no mention of Abraham Lincoln or the principal battle generals, Joseph Hooker (Union) and Robert E. Lee and Stonewall Jackson (Confederate). This is by design, since Crane was writing a different kind of war novel. He was not concerned with the causes of the war, the political and social implications of the prolonged and bloody conflict, the strategy and tactics of the commanding officers, or even the real outcome of the battle in which historically the combined losses were nearly thirty thousand men (including Jackson, mistakenly shot in darkness by one of his own men).
From beginning to end, the short novel focuses upon one Union Army volunteer. Though other characters enter the story and reappear intermittently, they are distinctly minor, and they are present primarily to show the relationship of Henry Fleming (usually called only “the youth”) to one person, to a small group of soldiers, or to the complex war of which he is such an insignificant part. Much of the story takes the reader into Henry’s consciousness. Readers share his boyish...
(The entire section is 1045 words.)
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