This classic tale of a Union private in the Civil War focuses on young Henry Fleming's initiation into battle after spending his first few months in the army wondering if he will fight bravely when he faces his first battle. Once that battle comes, he is extremely well pleased by his initial performance. He responds as a member of the regiment, shooting and holding the line and finally feeling rage at the enemy as men around him fall and die. But in the midst of his self-congratulations, the battle starts up again and when other men begin to run away he follows them, certain that his side has lost and that the only thing he can do is escape the bullets. Then he hears a general exulting that the regiment has held the line, andnow separated from themhe ends up in a line of wounded men walking back for treatment. Another wounded man tries to help him, but certain that he is a coward and deeply ashamed of his behavior, he snaps at the man and abandons him. Later another retreating soldier whom he angers, bashes him in the head with his rifle, leaving him bloody and weak. Pretending he has been shot, he manages to return to his regiment. In the next battle he achieves a greater maturity, fighting fiercely, taking up the flag when the flag-bearer is shot, and urging the other men forward. After the battle this time, he considers his behavior more realistically and ends with a balanced awareness of his own strengths and shortcomings. A short additional section called "The Veteran" shows an elderly Henry surrounded by family and friends who admire him for his military service. On the day depicted, a drunken farmhand accidentally sets the barn on fire, and Henry demonstrates that he still practices the virtues of responsibility and heroism when he runs into the barn to save the horses and cattle, giving his life in his attempt to save two colts. The book brings the battles to life with the noise and smoke of rifle fire, the rough bark of the trees in the woods, and the sense of the chaos these young soldiers are lost in. Physically, the book's compact size and readable type should appeal to young adults, and the brief end sections about Stephen Crane, the Civil War itself, nine of the novel's characters, five discussion questions, six further activities, and a two-page glossary add useful material. Reviewer: Judy DaPolito
The tattered man marvels at the strength that Jim mustered before death, wondering how he managed to run when his injury should have rendered him unable to walk. Henry and the tattered man move away from the corpse. The tattered man says that he is feeling “pretty damn’ bad,” and Henry worries that he is about to witness another death. The tattered man says, however, that he is not about to die—he has children who need him to survive. He mistakes Henry for his friend Tom Jamison and tells him that he also looks weak, and that he should have his wound looked at. He adds that he once saw a man shot in the head so that the man did not realize he was hurt until he was already dead.
The Red Badge of Courage is a story of a young man's journey to adulthood, over 48 hours of battle during the Civil War. The use of color, religious, and animal imagery highlights the difference between the romantic narrator and the realistic novel. The novel's themes of courage, masculinity, solitude, and personal growth are all exemplified in Henry, whose transformation from selfish teen to courageous soldier are the backbone of the book. Written in 1895, and denounced by some as anti-war, The Red Badge of Courage is one of the best portrayals of what a soldier goes through, both psychologically and physically. It remains a classic Civil War novel and a moving story of hope in the face of terrible odds.