Red Badge Of Courage Summary

Stephen Crane

Red Badge Of Courage

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Red Badge Of Courage Summary

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The Red Badge of Courage by Stephen Crane follows a young soldier, Henry Fleming, during a battle in the Civil War. Henry fights for the North—the Union. The battle is unnamed, which allows Henry to represent other soldiers in the conflict as well. After daydreaming about leaving his family’s farm in upstate New York to experience the glory of battle, Henry enlists in the 304th New York regiment.

At the start of the novel, the 304th is camped near a river. It has been there for a few months when rumors of an upcoming battle begin to circulate. The rumors are without support though, and the anticipation of battle eats at Henry. He spends this time ruminating on whether or not he has the courage and strength to become a good soldier. He doesn’t fear battle per se, but rather, he fears that he will be ridiculed as a coward should he flee from it. He does not know anything about battle first-hand, having only read about it in schoolbooks and heard about it from other soldiers.

When the northern army finally marches across the river, it comes up against the Confederate army. At first, Henry’s regiment is delegated to a reserve role, but in this position, he is able to observe the battle. When his regiment sees action and manages to repel the enemy’s charge, Henry feels relieved because, not only did they succeed in pushing the Confederates back,but he did not run from battle. His feelings of success are short-lived; the Confederate forces attack again and, this time, certain that his regiment will be overcome, Henry runs away. He spends the rest of the day alternately feeling bad for fleeing and trying to justify that same action.

He goes into the woods, intending to keep away from the conflict, but there he finds a dead man whose body has started to decay. He runs from the body and back toward the battle, where he ends up with the wounded men. He meets a friend there, Jim Conklin. Jim was shot in the side. Henry and another man, referred to as the “Tattered Soldier,” care for Jim until his death. The Tattered Soldier asks Henry question after question about Henry’s own injuries. Eventually, Henry is embarrassed enough to leave the other man to die alone in a field.

Henry sees the Union forces charge and retreat. In the course of this retreat, which overtakes Henry, he is hit in the head with butt of a rifle. Another man, whose face Henry does not see, helps him get back to his regiment, which is much depleted. There, he encounters Wilson, who seems to have matured significantly since they last met. Henry envies this, but it does not stop them becoming good friends.

The battle rages into the next day, when Henry’s regiment is ordered to defend the border of the woods. Finally, he finds his courage and fights hard, earning the respect and awe of his fellow soldiers as well as his commanders. When Henry and Wilson are sent to seek out water later on, they overhear a general saying that the 304th regiment is fighting so poorly that it can be spared. When they are sent into the charge, Henry saves the regiment’s banner after the color bearer is shot. Many men die, and Henry and Wilson become the leaders of the regiment—though they do not have the commissions. Their charge fails initially, but when the Confederates charge them, they push them back and take the Confederate regiment’s flag. Wilson and Henry are both thought of as heroes.

The focus of the book is on the ways in which Henry changes throughout the course of this one battle. At the end of the battle, he is thought of as strong. He possesses confidence and self-assurance, neither of which he had at the beginning. His sense of glory, pulled from reading about ancient Greek battles, has been replaced by a more cool-headed bravery.

After fleeing from battle the first time, Henry longs to be injured. Wounds are the red badges of courage, proof that a soldier fought in the battle. That he is not wounded is the reason he becomes embarrassed and runs away from the Tattered Soldier. Wounds, therefore, are important symbols in The Red Badge of Courage, and reflect the courage vs. cowardice theme of the story.

Stephen Crane was born after the Civil War, yet The Red Badge of Courage is considered a work of realism. The realist movement began in French and Russian literature around the middle of the nineteenth century. Other examples of realist writers include Stendhal (Marie-Henri Beyle) and Alexander Pushkin. Realists attempt to represent the familiar as it actually is, or in Crane’s case with The Red Badge of Courage, how those things were. They typically choose everyday events and occurrences, which is another reason that the battle in this story is unnamed.