Saturday, September 25th, 2010

A Review: The Red Badge of Courage by Stephen Crane

I read Crane’s The Red Badge of Courage for my Fill in the Blanks project. (The project: in a nutshell, a bunch of us reader/writer types have committed to reading 100 classics (in 5 years) that we feel we should have read either in high school or college.

I copied someone else’s list to start myself off with and have been slipping books on and off the list as I’ve re-discovered them. My list has been fairly set in stone for the last year or so (until now: this book wasn’t on my original list.)

Visit the Fill in the Blanks blog to see lots of reviews by everyone on the project. Join if you’re so inclined. )

My review:

The story is about Henry Fleming, a recent recruit to the Union army during the Civil War. As his regiment waits to see warfare, he becomes increasingly obsessed with whether or not he has the courage to stand his ground. He doesn’t know if he’ll run.

As it turns out, when he first encounters a battle, he’s so surrounded by fellow solders and confronted by the enemy that he can do nothing but fight. The second time her faces battle, however, he flees. He convinces himself that he was right to save himself.

He later makes it back to his regiment and fights bravely. He’s deeply ashamed of his earlier behavior, but by the end of the book manages to make peace with himself.

For a classic, the book was pleasantly shorter than I thought it was going to be. Still, I was sometimes annoyed by all of Henry’s self pity and castigation. But if not for all that, I wouldn’t have gotten such a deep understanding of Henry’s feelings.

And, I’m glad to finally know that a “red badge” of courage is a wound received in battle, according to Henry.

Overall, it was a good read, with good characterization and excellent descriptions of battle, the poverty of war, and death.

2 comments to A Review: The Red Badge of Courage by Stephen Crane

  • I’m re-reading it for a potential mash-up and the first three chapters are proving to be a tough sell. For a war novel, I had hoped it would have some action, but that’s the point – war was supposed to be this exciting thing for Henry, but he didn’t see much action and the waiting fed into his insecurities.

    Any ideas on how you’d rewrite the first chapter to make it more interesting, yet keep the main character idling? I was thinking maybe the “green recruits” could share some of the stories they’ve heard about what fighting is like, with each one growing more fanciful (as military stories often do.)

    • Hi Carl! I agree…lots of waiting and soul-searching in the first few chapters, not much action.

      How true do you have to be to the story? I’ve got some ideas…but I’ll send them to you privately…

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