What is the tone in The Red Badge of Courage? Positive, neutral, or negative?
The Red Badge of Courage conveys a negative tone through most of the novella, but it does shift throughout the various chapters. It begins ominous, and wherever a battle scene is described, a tone of morbid excitement is created. It is not until the very end of the story that the tone becomes hopeful.
At the beginning of the story, the tone is ominous:
The cold passed reluctantly from the earth, and the retiring fogs revealed an army stretched out on the hills, resting. As the landscape changed from brown to green, the army awakened, and began to tremble with eagerness at the noise of rumors. It cast its eyes upon the roads, which were growing from long troughs of liquid mud to proper thoroughfares. A river, amber-tinted in the shadow of its banks, purled at the army's feet; and at night, when the stream had become of a sorrowful blackness, one could see across it the red, eye-like gleam of hostile camp-fires set in the low brows of distant hills.
In this opening description of setting, the reader is given a picture of danger lurking ahead. While the army is awakening from a rest, the rumor of an impending battle begins to circulate. The army seems to be looking out for signs of danger, which is why it "cast[s] its eyes upon the roads." Eminent danger is also present in the description of the "shadow" of the river at the army's feet and the "blackness" in the distance, where fires burn like "red . . . hostile" eyes. This description of danger makes the youth's naive excitement over serving in battle seem foolish.
Henry's mother's reaction further reinforces the folly of the youth by adding to the ominous tone. A sense of foreboding is present in how solemnly she gives her son advice for the days ahead. She says that when the time comes for Henry to do his duty in battle, he must not let guilt over what he might be forced to do for his own survival hinder him. She knows that war will make a beast of her son, and that becoming part of the brutal war machine will be his best chance of survival. She says, "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 . . . the Lord 'll take keer of us all." Her attention to her son's emotions and soul in light of the experiences that lay ahead of him further cultivate the ominous tone of this first chapter.
When Henry is in battle, the tone becomes one of morbid excitement, as images are employed to create an environment of survival of the fittest. This dark excitement is also present in how beastly the soldiers become in their war-time environment. For example, where Henry faces battle in Chapter 5, the text reads:
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The answer is it differs. Some parts are very positive and some are negative, and some are neutral. it differs from chapter to chapter, or even from page to page.