Explain Stephen Crane's style in The Red Badge of Courage.  Include quotations to supports your points.

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carol-davis eNotes educator| Certified Educator


Stephen Crane’s The Red Badge of Courage covers two days of intense battle scene.  The third person limited narration reflects the feelings and fears of the young Henry Fleming.  The story belongs to Henry as he struggles to find his courage and understand his role in his unit. 

Crane uses several stylistic approaches to advance his story. 

The imagery indicates the mental struggle in which Henry finds himself.  He becomes intrigued with the dead bodies. Orginally, the youth thinks that a death in war was brave and glorious; however, he encounters the bodies in misshapened postures and ugly reality.  This changes Henry. In his final realization, he no longer fears the dead men. Death is pointless. 

When Henry finds the chapel created by the arching of the trees, he encounters an horrific scene.

Near the threshold he stopped, horror-stricken at the sight of a thing.

He was being looked at by a dead man who was seated…The corpse was dressed in a uniform that had once been blue, but was now faded to… green. The eyes, staring at the youth, had changed to the dull hue to be seen on the side of a dead fish. The mouth was open. Its red had changed to an appalling yellow. Over the gray skin of the face ran little ants.

Another of Henry’s obsessions are the wounds that to him represent the red badge of courage.    Jim Conklin’s side appears to be “chewed by wolves.” Henry’s wound brings more guilt to him.  His wound comes not in the heat of  battle but rather from an angry fellow soldier.  Henry discovers that some wounds are psychological and come from the guilt that he feels for leaving the battle and running away.

As he observes the wounded soldiers around him, he becomes envious of their injuries; he considers a wound proof of valor—a “red badge of courage”—and wishes that he had one. He walks by the spectral soldier that he noticed earlier…The flap of Jim’s blue jacket falls away from his body, and Henry sees that his side looks “as if it had been chewed by wolves.”

Another distinctive aspect of Crane’s style is use of nicknames or epithets for his characters.  The names come from the qualities exhibited by the character usually in relationship to Henry, who is called the youth in the story.

The tattered man

The loud soldier—Wilson starts out as the know it all, but progresses and matures as the story evolves. 

The tall soldier—Conklin

These names and the traits of the characters point to an “everyman theme.”

The third facet of Crane’s style emanates from the dialogue and the dialect of the soldiers . Most of the dialogue involves Henry as he tries to find his unit.  After he is wounded, his encounters with the other soldiers emerge as a call for help. 

"Look-a-here, pardner," he said, after a time. He regarded the corpse as he spoke. "He 's up an' gone, ain't 'e, an' we might as well begin t' look out fer ol' number one. This here thing is all over... An' I must say I ain't enjoying any great health m'self these days…"

The interesting approach to the story of Henry Fleming and his search for manhood includes a stream of consciousness approach.  Henry’s thoughts run throughout the story as he realizes that he ran  and is a traitor.  Then, his wound leads him back to his group, and his attempt at glory as he carries the flag for his regiment.

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The Red Badge of Courage

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