The Red Badge of Courage by Stephen Crane

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In The Red Badge of Courage, what differences does Crane see between the leaders of battle and the common soldiers?

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The differences between the different ranks of soldiers in the Civil War is something that Crane's fiction seeks to explore not just in this excellent novel but elsewhere in his various works as well. To take a specific instance, let us look at Chapter Four of this great work and the way that the commanding officers of the rank and file soldiers are shown to react to the way in which their soldiers are fleeing and deserting. It is interesting to note the way that the commanding officers are shown to be rather ridiculous in their inability to prevent their soldiers from fleeing the battlefield:

The following throng went whirling around the flank. Here and there were officers carried along on the stream like exasperated chips. They were striking about them with their swords and with their left fists, punching every head they could reach. They cursed like highwaymen.

In the heat and pressure of battle, even commanding officers are shown to lose their cool and dignity. Crane goes on to describe one officer who "displayed the furious anger of a spoiled child." Although this novel clearly presents the commanding officers as being "higher" than the common soldiers such as the protagonist, the pressure of battle and war is shown to be a great equaliser that all men respond to in a way that shows them in their true colours and strips them of the dignity and station that other men give them.


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