The Red Badge of Courage: An Episode of the American Civil War

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The Red Badge of Courage was written by Stephen Crane, and published by D. Appleton and Company. It has 162 pages. During this report, I will describe the setting, characters, plot, the main idea the author was trying to prevail on upon his readers, a quote from the book, and an evaluation of the book.

The setting takes place during an unspecified time during the Civil War. The battle described in the novel is most likely a fictional account of the Battle at Chancellorsville, which took place May 2-6, 1863.

The novel’s protagonist, Henry Fleming, a young soldier fighting for the Union army during the American Civil War. Initially, Henry stands untested in battle and questions his own courage. As the novel progresses, he encounters hard truths about the experience of war, confronting the universe’s indifference to his existence and the insignificance of his own life. Often vain and holding extremely romantic notions about himself, Henry grapples with these lessons as he first runs from battle, then comes to thrive as a soldier in combat.

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Jim Conklin, Henry’s friend, is a tall soldier hurt during the regiment’s first battle. Jim soon dies from his wounds, and represents, in the early part of the novel, an important moral contrast to Henry. Jim has little patience for the kind of loud, knee-jerk criticism or vague abstraction that distracts Wilson and Henry. He prefers to do what duty requires of him and finds a quiet, simple pleasure in doing so.

Henry Fleming, a recent recruit with this 304th Regiment, worries about his courage.

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He fears that if he were to see battle, he might run. However, since the time he joined, the army has merely been waiting for engagement. At last, the regiment is given orders to march, and the soldiers spend several weary days traveling on foot. Eventually they approach a battlefield and begin to hear the distant roar of conflict. Terror overtakes him and he leaps up and flees from the line. As he runs across the landscape, he tells himself that he did the right thing, that his regiment could not have won, and that the men who remained to fight were fools. While he is away from his regiment’s camp, he meets a mysterious soldier with a distant, numb look on his face. Henry eventually recognizes the man as a badly wounded Jim Conklin. Henry promises to take care of Jim, but Jim ends up running off to die. From then on, Henry fights like a lion, venting his rage against the enemy soldiers. Another soldier tells Henry and Wilson, to their gratification, that the colonel and lieutenant consider them the best fighters in the regiment.

Given the novel’s title, it is no surprise that courage, defining it, desiring it, and, ultimately, achieving it, is the most salient element of the narrative. As the novel begins, Henry’s understanding of courage is traditional and romantic. He assumes that, like a war hero of ancient Greece, he will return from battle either with his shield or on it. At the end of the novel, as the mature Henry marches victoriously from battle, a more subtle and complex understanding of courage emerges. He begins to understand that it is not simply a function of other people’s opinions, but it does include selfish concerns, such as a soldier’s regard for his reputation.

“He suddenly lost concern for himself, and forgot to look at a menacing fate. He became not a man but a member. He felt that something of which he was a part–a regiment, an army, a cause, or a country–was in a crisis.” I chose this quote because this is the first time he realizes it doesn’t matter whether he fights for “a regiment, an army, a cause, or a country.” He is a part of it, and that it’s the surest and most responsible way of winning the glorious praise that he desires.

I really liked this book, and would recommend it to everyone, especially people my age. If you are interested in the Civil War or want to expand your knowledge of it even, this would be a great book for that also. It tells about the experiences the people in the regiment go through and how they feel about the war and fighting.

Cite this page

The Red Badge of Courage: An Episode of the American Civil War. (2022, May 05). Retrieved from

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