The Red Badge of Courage: An Episode of the American Civil War, Stephen Crane’s “psychological portrayal of fear,” follows a young, inexperienced Yankee soldier, Henry Fleming, into battle for his first time. Bored with farm life and motivated to enlist by the heroic images of war in conventional stories, Henry looks forward to battle, but the conversations of seasoned soldiers Wilson and Jim Conklin make him question how he will react under fire and whether he is really a soldier.
Henry’s first, unnamed battle (perhaps Chancellorsville) causes him to shoot wildly and then run in panic when others do. Feeling guilty when he learns of the enemy’s defeat, Henry hides in the forest, where he sees a dead soldier. He joins a group of wounded, including Jim, who dies. Conscience-stricken, Henry envies the dead but becomes embroiled in a retreat and is struck on the head by a fellow Union soldier. His wound, his ironic “red badge of courage,” allows him to rejoin his regiment. In subsequent battles, Henry fights with increasing fierceness and bravery and joins his experienced fellows as a veteran.
Often considered the first modern war novel, The Red Badge of Courage focuses on the common soldier rather than the leadership or on questions of strategy and politics. Henry is a generic youth in battle, a tiny cog in a huge war machine that readers perceive only through the boy’s consciousness, which is a mix of romantic...
(The entire section is 532 words.)