Illustration of Henry Fleming in a soldier's uniform in front of a confederate flag and an American flag

The Red Badge of Courage

by Stephen Crane

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Last Updated on July 29, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 678

The Red Badge of Courage has long been ranked as an American classic and is standard fare in high school and college literature courses. This means that it is possible that many members of a discussion group will not only have read the book, but will have discussed it in the classroom. Thus, presenting the book as something fresh would be important for a discussion group. Most classroom discussions are likely to have emphasized the book's many "literary" qualities, such as its symbolism or its impressionistic use of colors; less likely to have been discussed is the novel's storytelling, plot, and popular appeal, By looking at how the novel capture's its readers' attention and then carries them along in an action-filled plot, a discussion group could open new avenues of interest for those who think they are bored with the novel. By focusing on the qualities of the narrative itself, a group may manage to focus the divergent points-of-view of those who have had other experiences with the book in classroom discussions.

It would be of considerable value to most readers to uncover why the novel has captured imaginations of readers for over a hundred years, as well as to discover why it is a virtually undisputed masterpiece of American literature. Its placing of events in one of the central turning points of the American experience — the Civil War — probably accounts for some of the interest it holds for readers. Another aspect that may account both for its appeal and its stature, is its unheroic view of the fighting in the war. There were heroes aplenty in that terrible war, but it is likely most soldiers were like Henry; the novel offers an uncommon view of a war still most often depicted as a heroic crusade for one side or the other. By discussing the novel, group members can gain new insights into the American experience, can see what an American literary can achieve by focusing on American materials, and can gain a deeper understanding of what makes a work of fiction both a good read and an enlightening work of art.

1. Crane said that he learned from the German author Johann Wolfgang von Goethe that certain colors affect human feelings. What use does Crane make of colors in The Red Badge of Courage?

2. Many critics and Crane himself have been dissatisfied with the novel's resolution. Do you think that The Red Badge of Courage has a satisfactory ending?

3. How much real control over events do the officers exert in The Red Badge of Courage? Why does Crane choose a common soldier, rather than an officer, as his protagonist?

4. What is meant by the term anti-hero? Is Henry Fleming an antihero?

5. In his "Ode: Intimations of Immortality" (1807), the poet William Wordsworth portrays nature as a "homely nurse of mankind." Read this poem. What do you think Wordsworth meant by the phrase "homely nurse"? Is nature portrayed in The Red Badge of Courage as a "homely nurse/' or does it play some other role?

6. Can you find any examples of humor in The Red Badge of Courage? If so, what kinds of humor and where?

7. How does Henry Fleming measure up to the heroes of classical Greek antiquity whom he admires so much?

8. As the novel ends, Henry is still remembering with remorse the tattered soldier whom he twice abandoned. Explain that soldier's role in the narrative.

9. In what sense might The Red Badge of Courage be a prose poem? How does Crane's use of imagery function more as a poetic than a prose technique?

10. What is an allegory? To what extent is the novel allegorical?

11. Is Wilson, as he is portrayed in the second half of the novel, as much of a hero as Henry? Can a novel have more than one hero?

12. Crane was reassured when he finally witnessed a battle and realized that his descriptions of war The Red Badge of Courage had been very accurate. Find a description of the battle of Chancellorsville. What use has Crane made of this battle in his novel?

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