The Merriam-Webster Encyclopedia of Literature: "Novel of the American Civil War by Stephen Crane, published in 1895 and considered to be his masterwork for its perceptive depiction of warfare and of the psychological turmoil of the soldier. Crane had had no experience of war when he wrote the novel, which he based partly on a popular anthology, Battles and Leaders of the Civil War. The Red Badge of Courage has been called the first modern war novel because, uniquely for its time, it tells of the experience of war from the point of view of an ordinary soldier. Henry Fleming is eager to demonstrate his patriotism in a glorious battle, but when the slaughter starts, he is overwhelmed with fear and flees the battlefield. Ironically, he receives his "red badge of courage" when he is slightly wounded by being struck on the head by a deserter. He witnesses a friend's gruesome death and becomes enraged at the injustice of war. The courage of common soldiers and the agonies of death cure him of his romantic notions. He returns to his regiment and continues to fight on with true courage and without illusions."
Written of the Civil War, this is a powerful psychological study of a young soldier's struggle with the horrors, both within and without, that war unleashes, striking the reader with its undeniable realism and with its masterful description of the moment-by-moment riot of emotions felt by men under fire.
Read in school - still remember parts of the story and the impact it had on me.
Authentic view of the civil war with a unique perspective. An excellent read.
This book is about a man's story of the Civil War. I thought it was boring. But you might not.
America's greatest novel about the Civil War.
A review from Amazon.com:
"The Red Badge of Courage," written in 1895 by Stephen Crane (1871-1900), is considered by many literary critics to be one of the greatest of all American novels. This is a book about the Civil War, and one Union soldier's struggle with his inner demons as he prepares for, and fights his first battle.
Although the story Crane tells is deceptively simple, it reveals, better than any other novel I've read, the full horror of war, and the complexity and unpredictability of human behavior in the crucible of battle. Henry Fleming (always referred to by Crane as "the youth") is a young northerner who, despite his mother's objections, enlists in the Union army with great patriotic fervor. As he awaits his first battle, the youth ponders how he will react: will he stand and fight, or will he flee? The answer comes soon enough. His regiment is attacked by the Confederates; at first the youth stays to fight, but, during a second attack, he watches other soldiers run away from battle in a state of panic. He himself is overcome by fear, and he too flees.
The youth finally reaches a state of exhaustion and stops running. Immediately, his conscience begins to gnaw at him. He hears rumors that his regiment has actually stood and won the day against its foe. His thoughts and emotions begin to run the gamut from rationalization, to self-loathing, to fear of being discovered a coward. He continually looks for ways to justify his flight. The youth hears the continuing sound of battle in the distance, and is drawn to it, almost as a moth to a flame; he decides to return to his regiment, but loses his way. As he tries to find his way back to his regiment, he is confronted by people who serve to prick his conscience even further. He witnesses the horrible death of Jim Conklin, one of his friends from his regiment. While walking with a group of wounded soldiers, he is asked by one tattered and probably insane soldier what the nature of his wounds are. Shamed by this inquisition, he runs away, afraid he'll be uncovered as the poltroon he is beginning to believe himself to be. He begins to wish for a "red badge of courage" - a wound - which would signify his bravery in battle. He gets his wish in a roundabout way when he attempts to ask another soldier for directions. He gets into a scuffle and is cut on the head with the soldier's rifle. This becomes his "red badge" when he finally makes it back to his unit; he lies to his comrades-in-arms, saying he received the wound as a result of being shot in the heat of battle.
Ultimately, the youth is afforded another opportunity to prove his courage in battle. How he reacts under fire during this new test of his character and courage is the great climactic event of "The Red Badge of Courage." Henry's behavior reveals the lessons he has learned about himself , and shows how he is able to come to terms with his inner demons and the world around him as a result of those lessons.
Crane's writing is excellent on most levels. His descriptions of the insane violence of battle is graphically intense, and of reasonable historical accuracy. The one noticeable weakness in Crane's style is his dialogue. Although it is raw and gritty, it is also somewhat unrealistic; all his characters sound like they have southern accents, even though they are supposed to be from New York and other northern states. Still, the dialogue is effective in conveying the essential truth of who did most of the fighting on both sides during the Civil War: tough, profane, and often poor and uneducated men, many who did not know of, or care about, the causes for which they fought and sometimes died.
In my view, what sets "The Red Badge of Courage" apart as one of the finest Civil War novels of all time is Crane's brilliant analysis of Henry Fleming's state of mind as he runs away from battle and then attempts to redeem himself. Through Crane's lively pen and sometimes purple prose, I was able to peer into the youth's very soul and understand some of his fears, hopes, intermittent self loathing, and frequent rationalizations, and how those emotions and attitudes drove his behavior during battle. Henry Fleming is certainly not an admirable protagonist! (This may, in fact, have been the first Civil War novel which depicts the central character in less than an idealistic, "knightly" fashion.) He is immature, vain, shallow, and mendacious throughout the book, but is also imbued with an inner strength and the self-discipline which allow him ultimately to triumph over his many character flaws.
"The Red Badge of Courage" is indeed a timeless masterpiece of American fiction. It is easy to understand why it ranks alongside such great American novels as Harriet Beecher Stowe's "Uncle Tom's Cabin," John Steinbeck's "The Grapes of Wrath," and "To Kill a Mockingbird," by Harper Lee. "The Red Badge of Courage" is a book to be read and savored!