Crane, Stephen

The Red Badge of Courage (1895)


This book tells of a young recruit in the American Civil War faced by the cruelty of war. During the American Civil War, 18-year-old private Henry Fleming deserts his battalion, considering the battle to be a lost cause. Escaping into a nearby forest, he finds a group of injured men. One member of the group, the Tattered Soldier, asks Henry where he is wounded. Henry, embarrassed that he does not have any wounds, leaves the group and wanders through the forest. He ultimately decides that running was the best thing, and that he is a small part of the army that is responsible for saving himself.

Henry later learns that his battalion has won the battle, and feels incredibly guilty. As a result, he returns to his battalion. He is involved in a dispute with an artilleryman, who hits Henry in the head when the boy refuses to let go of the gunner's arm. When Henry returns to camp, the other soldiers believe his head injury to be caused by a bullet grazing him in battle.

The next morning Henry goes into battle for the third time. While looking for a stream from which to get water, he discovers from the commanding officer that his regiment has a lackluster reputation. The officer speaks casually about sacrificing Henry's regiment. With no regiments to spare, the general orders his men forward. In the final battle, Henry becomes one of the best fighters in his battalion, finally proving his courage as a man.

This novel is considered one of the most influential works in American literature, it made Stephen Crane an international success. Although Crane was born after the war and had not at the time experienced battle firsthand, the novel is considered an example of Realism.

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