Thursday, 7 October 2010

The Red Badge of Courage by Stephen Crane

Stephen Crane wrote his civil war novel The Red Badge of Courage in 1895 and although he was born after this war, it is considered to be a realistic depiction of a young solider.
We take for granted now when literature depicts the psychological view of soldiers or only focus on a small group of recruits rather than the overview of a war so it’s not hard to see how influential The Red Badge of Courage has been.

The novel follows Henry, a new recruit to the Army who at first is subject to endless marching around and the boredom that accompanies it. While the soldiers sit around waiting for rumours that fighting will eventually begin, Henry has time to reflect on his situation and he wonders how he will react once he actually sees battle: will he stand and fight, or turn and run. This psychological battle in his head continues even when he is engaged in battle as he tries to overcome his fears.

“Well, I wanta do some fighting anyway,” interrupted the other. “I didn't come here to walk. I could 'ave walked to home-'round an' 'round the barn, if I jest wanted to walk.”

The novel is quite an intense read as Henry goes through a wide range of emotions from bravery, pride, wishing for a wound (his own read badge of courage) to sheer cowardice. These emotions along with the men’s contempt for their superiors make this one of the most interesting depictions of war I have ever read.

Unfortunately the writing is very heavy going and quite difficult to read. At times, especially during the battle scenes I had trouble working out what was going on and if Henry was observing or participating. This meant that I did not get emotionally involved with the story or with Henry which is a great shame as the ideas and concept is very interesting.

At times he regarded the wounded solders in an envious way. He conceived persons with torn bodies to be peculiarly happy. He wished that he, too, had a wound, a red badge of courage.

Would I recommend this? There are more modern novels which deal with similar themes which are easier to read and have more of an emotional impact so I wouldn’t recommend this one unless you had a particular interest in novels of this period or you wanted to understand why this novel is so influential.

Verdict 2 1/2/5

Posted by Jess


  1. I've read this and I didn't enjoy it either. My mom loves it, though; I just don't understand why. :)

  2. I think I was forced to read this in high school. That's about all I remember from it...

  3. How weird to read the Red Badge of Courage and then not recommend it. . . I haven't read this book since high school, but I'm tempted to go back and reread it so see if I agree with you, as like Amanda, I remember very little about it.

  4. I read this a year or so ago and was equally unimpressed. I'm gla dI read it, but I wouldn't recommend it.

  5. I actually haven't read it at all, and now am not sure I will. If you haven't read "The Killer Angels", do it. My favorite war book of all time.

  6. I read this in my 20's and loved it. There may be others that are written more my style, but I was fully engaged and the writing never took me out of the story. Too bad it didn't work for you.

  7. Zara - it is a shame but hey sometimes it goes like that.

    Amanda - you American guys have the worst books to read in school. I think reading this in school would have put me off for life!

    brizmus - its a great story and insight, my problem with it was purely the writing style. It'll be interesting to see what you think if your do re-read it.

    Avid Reader - my thoughts exactly!

    SocrMom78 - Thankyou for the rec, I have added this to my TBR list - I love war novels.

    stacybuckeye - I really did want to love this, but it was just the writing style.