The Red Badge of Courage Analysis
by Stephen Crane

The Red Badge of Courage book cover
Start Your Free Trial

Download The Red Badge of Courage Study Guide

Subscribe Now

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.”


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.

Places Discussed

(Critical Guide to Settings and Places in Literature)


Camp. Encampment of Henry’s regiment where the novel opens. Although the regiment has only been lodged there for a few months, the novel’s initial location seems to Henry to be “sort of eternal camp.” In the opening paragraph, as a fog clears to display the awakening army, roads “grow” in the distance from “long troughs of liquid mud.” The shore of a nearby river is occupied by the enemy, whose campfires glow by night on the ridges of low hills. Sometimes pickets posted as sentries on opposite banks shoot at one another; however, at other times they converse peaceably, their enmity set aside.

The regiment’s lodgings are log-walled huts roofed with folded tents. Cracker boxes serve as furniture, grouped around fireplaces whose chimneys—crudely compounded out of clay and sticks—are inefficient, with the effect that the atmosphere inside each hut is foul with smoke: an omen of the battlefield to come.

Henry’s home

Henry’s home. Henry remembers life on his widowed mother’s dairy farm as an endless round of trudging between the house, the barn,...

(The entire section is 5,437 words.)