The Red Badge of Courage

(Critical Guide to Censorship and Literature)

The Work

The Red Badge of Courage is a novel in which Henry Fleming, “the Youth,” struggles with the question of whether he will fight or run when he sees his first real battle. After it begins, he stands firm for the first charge, then runs when the Confederate forces charge again. He is ashamed, wishing he had a bloody bandage, a “red badge of courage.” Eventually, he returns to his outfit and becomes an obsessed fighter.

This book was first attacked when it was removed from the American Library Association list of approved books in 1896. However, its removal was more of a response to author Stephen Crane than to the book itself. As Crane was writing The Red Badge of Courage, he published Maggie: A Girl of the Streets, a gritty, realistic look at life in New York’s slums that brought many calls for censorship against Crane. Also, Civil War veterans objected to a young man with no military experience writing detailed battle accounts. Nevertheless, the novel enjoyed a sustained popularity, occasionally being objected to by religious or antiwar and antiviolence groups. In 1985, for example, the superintendent of schools in a Florida community banned The Red Badge of Courage for profanity because it used the word “hell.”

Bibliography:

Bloom, Harold, ed. Stephen Crane’s “The Red Badge of Courage.” New York: Chelsea House, 1987. Examines style, technique, narrative method, and psychological aspects of Crane’s novel. Places the novel in the epic tradition.

Cazemajou, Jean. “The Red Badge of Courage: The ‘Religion of Peace’ and the War Archetype.” In Stephen Crane in Transition: Centenary Essays, edited by Joseph Katz. Dekalb: Northern Illinois University Press, 1972. Finds a balance in the novel between a metaphoric view of war as chaos and confusion, and a view of a world at peace. War and peace function more as archetypes than as realities in the novel.

LaFrance, Marston. A Reading of Stephen Crane. Oxford, England: Clarendon Press, 1971. Identifies Crane’s genius not in creating literary naturalism, but rather in his psychological portrayal of Henry Fleming. Praises Crane’s use of third-person limited point of view.

Mitchell, Lee Clark, ed. New Essays on ‘The Red Badge of Courage.’ New York: Cambridge University Press, 1986. Traces the novel’s evolution; concludes that the original draft served as an outline to be expanded into the 1895 version. Identifies Crane’s abstraction of the Civil War from its historical context as a distinctive contribution to American literature.

Solomon, Eric. Stephen Crane: From Parody to Realism. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1966. Credits Crane with countering a tradition of dashing heroes in war fiction by using parody and with giving the war novel a new form that afterward became the model. Maintains that Crane selects his war stories for their value as fiction, creating rather than reliving war experiences.