In The Red Badge of Courage, a novel about a young recruit's first encounter with real battle, Crane emphasizes the lack of free choice in human conduct. Chapter Four in particular highlights a common theme in Crane's work—the naturalistic belief in the indifference of nature. The theory of naturalism is a critical term applied to a method of literary composition that aims at a detached, scientific objectivity in the treatment of a natural man. It also holds to the theory of determinism and leans further towards pessimism, since man is controlled by his instincts or passions, or by his social and economic environment and circumstances. In any case, man is not free to choose. The theory emanates from the nineteenth-century concern for scientific thought, as exemplified in economic determinism (Karl Marx) and biological determinism (Charles Darwin). Darwinism was one of the popular social philosophies of Crane's day, and it stressed that, as in the animal world, only the stronger individuals survive.
Crane candidly reports the sordid and brutish actions of human conduct as well as the testing of human strength in the context of violence and struggle. Henry does not find solace in nature, but rather is deluded into feeling secure in an unfriendly context. As he moves deeper into the woods, away from the sounds of the guns and fighting, he comes upon a lovely spot, where the boughs of the trees form a chapel-like area with brown pine needles for the carpet. To his horror, he discovers a ghastly corpse with small ants crawling across its face, quite a shocking discovery in an otherwise sedate, peaceful scene. Henry cries out when he sees the corpse, then gazes at it intently before he gathers the strength to run away. As he flees, he is...
(The entire section is 1,168 words.)