The Red Badge of Courage – A war novel by the American author Stephen Crane, is the tale of an inexperienced young soldier going through the experience of a battle for the very first time. The novel, which came out in 1895, became the first novel about war without the writer ever witnessing a single episode of warfare in his entire life. While producing “The Red Badge of Courage” Crane draws on a predictable pattern followed in Civil War memories and novels of initiation.
Interestingly, Crane’s creation is not an ordinary Civil War narrative. His approach is very unconventional. While European novelists such as Émile Zola and Tolstoy had written about wars from an unsentimental viewpoint, Crane, on the other hand, rejects the conventional tradition of American war literature and, thus, focuses on the impacts and effects of war on the human mind. This also makes him stand apart from other American writers whose war stories were mere romance or adventure. Crane himself called his novel a “psychological portrayal of war.”
The Red Badge of Courage (Review)
The text is a commentary on the American Civil War through the eyes of Henry Fleming, the ‘youth’ who makes a journey towards self-discovery. He is an ordinary farm boy transformed into a soldier. The novel evokes the chaos and clatters of war through various images – the acrid smoke, incessant rumors of upcoming battles, the filth and cold, the numbing monologue, the unworldly wail of the dying, and so on. It is a psychological maturation of Fleming. The way in which Crane captures the unusual beauty of war reminds us of the impressionist painters. We encounter this through several descriptions across the pages – the splendid red flags against the blue sky, steel bayonets flashing in the morning as soldiers march towards the battlefield, and so on. Amidst this chaotic outer world, Crane creates an intricate world as we travel into the mind of Fleming.
Undoubtedly, “The Red Badge of Courage” is a faithful, though oblique, reflection of the time period in which it was constructed. The novel is a chronicle of the moods, anxieties, and impressions of a country boy turned into a veteran-like soldier. The narrative is conducted on two levels: the psychological setting, the outer world where the action takes place in contrast with the emotional plane, or Henry Fleming’s mind. As the tale progresses through Fleming’s perspective, we see these two planes fuse into a single unified impression. The realistic novel aptly describes war while using psychological realism as the driving vehicle. Here, Crane reconciles the symbolism of the inner and the outer world.
Interestingly, he was anticipating the stream of consciousness. It is a string of episodic scenes instead of the traditional plot structure. This indicates a work of documentary realism. The novel presents a realistic representation of war with the help of experiences. Having said that, it is equally the victory of imagination, both in the way it transmutes the sources and its rhetorical resources. Crane uses a highly imaginative writing style, which overlays the realism of its subjects and illuminates the ironies at the heart of Fleming’s experiences. According to R.W. Stallman, darkness and smoke symbolize concealment and deception; vapors mashing the light of truth. In almost all the scenes of the novel, we see images of darkness. It is a good reminder of Dante. Smoke is always confusing, and in this text, smoke is also the only conclusion.
In this book, verbs and syntaxes are always forward-moving. It is a mystic journey, mystic in the sense that there is a journey towards enlightenment and maturation through the outer battle. One cannot mature without the experience of war. Heraclitus believes that war is the condition of progress; without war, there is no progress. Crane draws the forward-moving concept of war from the ideas of Blake. In every chapter of the text, the sunlight and changing colors signify a spiritual insight and rebirth. These are the primary and traditional symbols in the novel. Throughout the novel, there are withdrawals and engagements. When Fleming is afraid, his manhood withdraws; then, he seeks dark places instead of nature. At times, withdrawals ultimately signify his courage to go to wars. But in the last scene, he is absolutely courageous. Man’s salvation lies in progress. Here, we see self combat that fights externally but mostly psychologically."The first novel about war without the writer ever witnessing a single episode of warfare in his entire life." Click To Tweet
The war episodes bring forth the unity of impression. The chaotic expressions within the hero’s mind are a realistic representation. Here, nature and man are in spiritual affinity, though nature becomes hostile sometimes. Quite often, the weather changes in a gesture of sympathy. Additionally, nature plays a significant part in Fleming’s experience. Here, the river symbolizes the novel’s journey motif, and the green grass is the symbol of a relaxed atmosphere. The usual browns and greens of the natural landscape are shown by Crane as flecked with spots of other colors, predominantly blue and red, but also yellow, orange, rose, gold, crimson, purple as well as black. These colors have both a symbolic and realistic value. With the color red, for example, ‘the red badge of courage’ is the wounds suffered by the soldier and hence, is the symbol of his honor won in service for the cause; whilst at the level of realism, red as the color of blood is abundantly and naturally in evidence. Equally, blue is native to the novel’s realism, as the color of the Union soldiers’ uniforms, which results in Crane repeatedly writing of the Union army as a ‘blue demonstration.’ The red badge is the rebirth of his consciousness, and consciousness itself is purified.
The very pattern of “The Red Badge of Courage” is a scheme of symbolism. Crane very cleverly mixes up the realistic and symbolic wars in the novel. It is heavily based on the structure of irony as well. Irony itself is a symbolic vehicle for Crane. In one of his letters, Crane affirmed that, through his texts, he aims at offering “a slice out of life,”; and if there is any lesson or moral in it, he doesn’t “try to point it out.” His taste for violence, his choice of trapped and defeated characters instead of the conventional heroic figures, and his refusal to soften their misery with the hints of eternal reward typify the naturalistic program.
The Red Badge of Courage
The Red Badge of Courage - A war novel by the American author Stephen Crane, is the tale of an inexperienced young soldier going through the experience of a battle for the very first time. The novel, which came out in 1895, became the first novel about war without the writer ever witnessing a single episode of warfare in his entire life. While producing "The Red Badge of Courage" Crane draws on a predictable pattern followed in Civil War memories and novels of initiation.
Author: Stephen Crane