What are some symbols used in "The Red Badge of Courage"?
Color is also a very important symbol in the story. Red is associated not just with courage, as in the titular reference to battle scars, but with war in general. Red is, of course, the color of blood, and there's plenty of that to be shed in any conflict:
They were going to look at war, the red animal—war, the blood-swollen god.
Note also the use of animal symbolism here. This feels somehow appropriate as there's something profoundly animalistic about human conflict, something that takes us right back to our primeval origins. Crane develops the animal symbol on numerous occasions through similes: the regiment digs into the ground "like terriers"; Union soldiers run away "like wild horses."
Returning to the symbol of color, yellow is, somewhat predictably, used in relation to cowardice, always an essential part of any conflict. The dawning of a "yellow day" gives an indication of what may happen on the battlefield later. And when Henry runs away from the heat of the raging battle, he says that a "yellow cloud lay on the treetops" while he watches the ensuing carnage from a relatively safe distance.
That leads us onto another symbol: clouds. Clouds are used to show the immense beauty that the natural world still retains in the midst of all this horrific slaughter:
The clouds were tinged an earthlike yellow in the sunrays and in the shadow were a sorry blue . . .
Clouds of smoke also symbolize the general confusion of battle, or "he fog of war," as it's also called. Amidst the swirling haze of battle, it's often difficult for anyone to see what's going on. No better symbol could be used to describe an intense, bloody conflict in which very little appears to make much sense.
The most important symbol is given in the title of the book. A Red Badge of Courage is supposed to be a battle wound. Henry wishes for one, but when he finally is wounded, it is from being struck with a rifle butt by one of his own men. Henry lies about the source of the wound and, ironically, gains the confidence of the men in his regiment. Crane also uses many symbols from nature. For example, the many references to flowers represent how fragile and temporary life is. One other reference often referred to his the "wafer-sun". Henry sees this when he becomes aware that he really might die. It probably symbolizes a communion wafer at a church service. Two other symbolic use of names are also important. If you read through the book, we do not learn Henry's name until after he has gone through a battle. Until then, he is simply referred to as "the youth". This indicates that Crane does not think of the boy as worthy of a name until he has been tested by battle. The other symbolic name is that of Jim Conklin. His tragic death has a tremendous effect on Henry. The initials of Conklin's name (J.C.) suggest Jesus Christ and indicate that Conklin is a type of Christ-figure in the novel.