Do you like The Red Badge of Courage? Do you like the book? Why?  

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I have not read The Red Badge of Courage in many years, I do, however, remember enjoying the book as a required reading as a Junior in high school. Wow! That was a long time ago!

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The novel is truly a worthy novel, but it is one that many students do, indeed, find too slow.  Unfortunately, few high school students--especially in some areas--are "mature readers." They look for many of the same things in literature that they seek in movies. Sadly.

One teacher has had success with this book when the students read it aloud.... 

 

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Of course.  It's a great book.  The irony of it is that Crane never fought in the Civil War.  He was born in 1871, five years after the war ended.

After the book came out several actual veterans of the Civil War said, mistakenly, that they had served with him.  That's how believable the book and author are.

It's a tour-de-force of credibility.  It captures the modern moral dilemmas in war like no other work.  The writing is simply beautiful.  It is framed so well that it could be about the Trojan War or the Civil War or the wars in Iraq, that's how universal it's voice is.

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I think most kids can relate to the fear of failure which almost cripples Henry into inaction.  When you approach it from the standpoint of expectations (soldiers are supposed to be brave, full of unwavering courage, and always know just what to do to save the world) and fears (darkness, being alone, failing to act when the time calls for it, pain, death, and any other number of things that may frighten a young boy who is thrust into the line of fire) it makes an impression on the reader.  Yes, it is slow, but it is a pyschological study of this young man's experience as a boy-warrior.  It is a comparison of what he wants to be versus what he fears he will be and then it blossoms into what he actually becomes.  I relate to Henry, and many of my country boy students do, too.

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The book is one of my favorite novels about the Civil War, but it doesn't adapt well to middle or high school classrooms today. Most kids find it too slow, and I have never had much success teaching it.

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I never liked the book because of its style. Of course I was made to read it. The message did make an impact on me that war is not glorious, and all men are not warriors. Having been a member of the Baby Boomer generation, I was raised on war movies. None of the characters were ever anything but brave and devoted. Once I got into the story itself, I came to realize the message overrode the style. Men are people, and people are not always brave. Bloodshed and violence are frightening, not glorious. Not everyone is cut out to be a soldier. To those who are, I appreciate them more because I could not do their job.

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Personally, I like the novella, but I do not enjoy teaching it.  Even though it is a brief work and about war, when I've taught it, my students (high schoolers) have difficulty appreciating Crane's worldview and style.  I like it because it is a modern style for its time period and because Crane effectively demonstrates what war/trauma does to the human mind.

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