Comment on the narrative technique adopted in The Red Badge of Courage.

The narrative technique adopted in The Red Badge of Courage is third-person limited omniscient. The story is told primarily through Henry's thoughts and perceptions, but with a narrative voice intruding at times to set the scene. The narrator and Henry both express Crane's naturalism. Henry's limited point of view reflects the fragmented and chaotic immediacy of battle.

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The Red Badge of Courage uses a third-person limited omniscient narrative. The story is told largely through Henry's eyes and thoughts: we see what he sees and experience battle the way he experiences it. We don't know specifically what any of the other characters are thinking or seeing unless they share their knowledge with Henry, though at times the narrator offers an assessment of collective feelings:

The men became so engrossed in this affair that they entirely ceased to remember their own large war.

It is as if a camera is on Henry's shoulder, filming the battle scenes he participates in from his point of view. Crane's uses an impressionistic narrative technique that captures the chaotic and fragmented experience of battle as a participant with limited knowledge of what is going on might perceive it in the moment. This gives the novel a feeling of immediacy, subjectivity, and realism.

Juxtaposed with this is a narrative voice that is not Henry's but which reflects the naturalistic point-of-view associated with Crane. Naturalism is the concept that humans are simply creatures of nature, not less or more important than any other animal. Warfare is simply a part of nature. For example, as the novel opens, the narrator sets a scene in which battlegrounds are one with nature and are personified, just as nature is—the natural world (the stream) and war (camp-fires) are alike in being assigned emotions:

at night, when the stream had become of a sorrowful blackness, one could see across it the red, eyelike gleam of hostile camp-fires set in the low brows of distant hills.

Henry's thoughts often reflect this naturalism: For example, Henry thinks of the soldiers heading into battle as "huge, crawling reptiles" rather than heroic human warriors.

Crane's narrative technique does not glorify war but tries to depict it realistically.

Last Updated by eNotes Editorial on February 25, 2021
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