The Red Badge of Courage by Stephen Crane

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What statement about the relationship between man and nature does The Red Badge of Courage make? Consider the images of fog, rain, and sun.

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In order to answer this question effectively, one must understand the basic differences between Romantic and Realistic forms of literature. In Romantic literature, nature is usually elevated to level of the divine, meaning that nature takes on god-like qualities. On the other hand, Realists like Stephen Crane often intentionally attempted in their writing to destroy Romantic notions such as the importance of nature. Certainly, no better setting exists for this endeavor than the Civil War. Henry Fleming, who himself can be labeled a Romantic, enlists in the fight with dreams of achieving glory dancing in his mind. However, a soldier’s life isn’t what he expected and neither is combat. In his mind, Henrys seemingly expects a bloody battle to be fought amid thunder, rain, and lighting. Indeed, before his first combat experience, Henry notes that “there was a caress in the soft winds; and the whole mood…was one of sympathy for himself in distress.” In other words, Henry actually believes that nature is sympathetic and cares for him like a benevolent deity.


This notion of nature is quickly destroyed as Henry faces his first fight. He notes that the sun is shining while men are fighting and dying. Nature, in other words, doesn’t seem to care what happens to Henry in the fight. This fact certainly causes him to doubt his original notions concerning nature. In short, by showing the reader Henry’s changing thoughts and his lessons learned about nature, Crane seems to be indicating that nature is completely indifferent to mankind.


If one is looking for further evidence of this relationship between man and nature, the scene in which Henry finds a dead soldier in the forest will provide excellent examples that may used for justification. This scene is located in Chapter 7.

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