RED BADGE OF COURAGE Synopsis

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RED BADGE OF COURAGE

Chapter 1 Analysis:
Stephen Crane begins a new course of realism in The Red Badge of Courage. Many critics
point to him as one of the first American authors of a modern style, and The Red Badge as
a fine example of this. The novel is built on a coming-of-age theme, and many of its
descriptive elements, such as its concentration on nature and character's actions, are in
the realist style, most popularized in America by William Dean Howells and Frank Norris.
However, Crane's style in this book has some slight differences from earlier styles. The
narrator does not name the characters. In the first chapter, we discover the names of
Henry and Jim only through their dialogue with other characters. The narrator only refers
to them by descriptors‹"the tall soldier" in Jim's case and, most importantly, "the
young soldier" in Henry's case.

Calling Henry "the youth" is the most important indicator that this novel is about his
maturity. In this first chapter, he is unproven even to himself. Before enlisting, Henry's
thoughts of war and battle are those of valiant struggles for life and death; the
possibility of cowardice does not arise in his initial thoughts of battle. However, his
mother's speech leaves much more room for interpreting his own future struggles. Rather
than give him the advice of the Spartans of ancient Greece to "return carrying your shield
or on top of it" (meaning either victorious or killed in combat, not having dropped it
fleeing), his mother tells him that, when faced with a situation of kill or be killed, he
has to do what he thinks is right, and only that. This is a critical moment in the plot of
the book. Henry's actions when facing battle are unknown, even to him. His convictions
were strong enough to join the army. Yet these were not because of patriotism or a will to
simply fight; the narrator shows Henry to be fantasizing of heroic deeds instead. His
mother's farewell speech shows that no one, not even Henry or the narrator, is sure what
he will do when faced with battle. Even Jim's answers, while they calm Henry's fears,
still are so vague that they do not lead to any concrete predictions for their future
actions in battle.

Yet Crane has written into this novel a way to tell certain characteristics even without
explicit direction from the narrator‹the use of color metaphors. The title itself is a
color metaphor. "The red badge of courage" could refer to an actual award given for
heroism; yet it surely refers to a wound from battle. The "red badge" shows your valiancy
by proving you were bold and brave enough to fight until wounded. However, as we see in
the first chapter with the mother's speech, this courage is not guaranteed. Indeed, every
man killed in battle would have a red badge, and still be dead.

Crane uses color metaphors to imply certain meanings throughout the book. An example of
this in the first chapter is Henry's mother's discouragement is described as throwing a
"yellow light upon the color of his ambitions." The use of yellow here is deliberate; it
refers to cowardice or "being yellow." Henry somehow sees denying his heroic dreams as
necessarily falling to cowardice, as this metaphor shows.

As the first chapter ends, we have been introduced to the characters, but also shown that
they are even uncertain of whom they are and how they will act. Developments come in later
chapters.

Chapter 2 Analysis:
This chapter of The Red Badge of Courage is dominated by Henry's mixed feelings about the
upcoming battle. He goes back and forth in thoughts about himself and his fellow soldiers.
One moment, he feels that he and they will both fight like brave heroes. The next, he is
sure that he is not meant to be a soldier and neither are his companions. If they seem
upbeat and happy, they are hiding a deep fear.

It does not matter at this point which one of these interpretations about the men is
correct. It is Henry himself who is most important and who the novel follows closely.
Because of this, his own feelings of fear and bravery and (above all) uncertainty dominate
and tint the perception of all things in this chapter.

For instance, returning to the color metaphors, when they arise, they come grouped
together. The best example of this is the description of the regiment moving out for the
first time. Their uniforms are not the blue of melancholy and deep thought; they are
purple. In the next sentence, "red eyes" of the enemy peer at them from across the river.
In the east, the yellow of the sun appears, silhouetting a colonel on a horse, making him
appear solid black.

These colors can be interpreted as having certain meanings. Eyes that are red seem more
violent and potentially harmful. The yellow may still represent cowardice; but the color
is from the sun, a far more courageous and proud symbol. The black of the colonel can be
any number of things‹fear of the unknown, a death symbol, a figure of authority like a
judge. Most important though is not the particular meanings of these color metaphors but
that they appear so rapidly one right after another. They mirror Henry's ambivalence. All
these emotions, represented by distinct colors, are embedded in this one scene of the
regiment moving out.

Later that night, most of the colors are gone, washed out by darkness. Still, Henry
broods. His conversation with Wilson does not help his mood much. What it does reveal is,
despite outward appearances, Wilson seems to have made a certain peace with the unknown.
He knows not what will happen exactly, just that he will try his best. His words to Henry
echo his mother's farewell speech and Jim Conklin's responses to his questions.

The color that does appear in small splashes in this scene is red, the red of the fires.
This suggests what we are soon to discover‹that a battle is eminent.

As gray smoke rises above the regiment, Wilson lays his hand on Henry's shoulder and says
that, with a trembling lip, that this will be his first and last battle. He just has a
feeling about it. He gives Henry a packet of letters to send to his family and then,
crying slightly, turns away.

Chapter 3 Analysis:
The images of landscape and color are brought to bear in a very wide fashion in this
chapter. After more marching and chatting, Henry and the regiment find themselves on a
hill overlooking a battle. Their view is from afar. They do not get to experience it as
direct participants and are therefore detached from the actual experience of battle (as we
are to find in later chapters, this experience looks and feels quite different from this
first view).

Henry's feelings remain ambivalent and shifting. He almost always has some opinion or
thought about battle, but they change often. In this chapter, they change at least three
times, from fear and dread upon seeing the battle, to anticipation of an actual fight, to
frustration when the men are being withdrawn. The colors of this chapter do follow the
previous pattern of relating to Henry's shifting feelings. Gold, orange, and red colors
flash in this chapter.

Yet, there is an important shift of colors in this chapter towards gray and silver. These
two colors have particular historical references to the Civil War. Silver refers to the
metal of the troops' rifles, bayonets, and swords. More important, gray was the color of
the uniform of the Rebel army. Much like the blue of the Union army uniforms often relates
to Henry's melancholy and brooding, the gray refers to the southerners' uniforms, but
symbolizes the unknown of battle. The blue Union soldiers, who have been thinking about
the implications of battle for days, are now faced with the enemy, both in the metaphor of
the "blood-swollen god" of war and the Rebel army. The gray of smoke and fog symbolizes
this unknown; and in this chapter, Henry gets closer and closer to it. He believes it to
be red, but all he can see now is gray.

Henry's manner begins to become more outward in this chapter as well. This will come to
bear later in the book, but he starts to act less and less in his head. This is not
through his doing. Wilson gives him his packet without comment of any intelligible sort
from Henry. This shows a shift in Henry's interactions. The battle is getting closer and
closer. It will finally stop to exist only as postulations in Henry Fleming's head.

Chapter 4 Analysis:
The men still talk and gossip at the beginning of this chapter. They dig in at the edge of
a forest facing an open field. A regiment in front of them is already engaging the enemy.

Henry and his regiment do not see the battle clearly; they see it in a haze. This shows
their lack of knowledge. The haze and gray colors represent the unknown of battle. Bullets
and cannon shells come screeching out of this haze. When one of these shells hits the
lieutenant of Henry's company, note that he has no desire to play up his wounds. He holds
the wound away from him, not wanting to get blood on his uniform, not wanting red to
mingle with the blue. This stands in marked contrast to some of Henry's musings. Redness
to this officer is not a badge. He got his wound almost by accident. He does not want to
show others proof of this wound‹it is not an authentic "badge" from battle.

As the men watch the haze more, men start to run out of it. The defeated regiment runs
through the young troops. The "blue line" only watches them go. The officers try to stop
their flight, but the other troops only watch. They are still "blue" and considering an
outside action. War, though so close to them, has still not touched them. Though Henry can
observe what "the struggle in the smoke" has done to other men (made them wild and flow
like a flood), he can still only think about this. He is resolved to view this beast of
battle, and only that he might run. He still does not know. He will find out in the next
chapter.

Chapter 5 Analysis:
Finally, Henry sees a battle in this chapter. The enemy troops come rushing out of the
grayness and smoke in front of his regiment. His doubts still live on in his head, until
he actually begins to fire. The change from Henry's head to Henry's communal action, first
suggested by Wilson's package in chapter three, comes out fully here. Henry is no longer
aware of himself as a person. He acts instead as a member of some greater force.

However, the narrator does not describe exactly what this body is. Rather than one
particular thing, he gives a list: regiment, army, cause, and country. It does not matter
what exactly it is. He just feels the panic of self-preservation. Yet, it is important
that the "self" is a group or collective of some sort. Up until now, most of what we have
followed has been Henry's thoughts. He has largely lived in his own head. Now, he is not
the only person he is concerned of. There are greater organisms that he is a part of, and
he fights for their preservation as much as his.

Interestingly, this means that the troops in Henry's regiment, who have been looking at so
much smoke and gray, must create it themselves. The smoke that clouds their vision is as
more from their own rifles as the enemy's. While he fights more against "swirling battle
phantoms" than other men, Henry is creating the smoke of battle and the smoke of
uncertainty himself, along with the other troops. The organism he is a part of, which we
cannot describe exactly, is also covered with the same smoke of mystery and unknowing.
Henry only knows how to act, not how to think.

This is apparent when Henry finally stops fighting. He fired and reloaded with a furious,
mechanical speed. Only when the battle is over does he realize how the smoke chokes him.
He sees the cannon shoot behind him, the corpses on the ground, and the blue of the sky.
The world has become a picture again, not a world of action. However, something is
changed. "Blue" here does not stand for the men's uniform or Henry's brooding; it is that
of a blue sky, of optimism and tranquility. It is this peacefulness of Nature that Henry
feels as the chapter closes.

Chapter 6 Analysis:
As Henry become more and more aware after the battle, he and his fellow soldiers
experience a reprieve. They believe that the battle is over; their trials have passed.
Yet, when the Rebel army comes again, they must get up and recreate the grayness and
clouds of smoke again.

Henry loses himself again, but this time not in a way that leads him to fight. He feels
that he is about to be eaten by "a red and green monster"‹the monster of war and death,
which these two colors represent. As men around him begin to flee, Henry loses his nerve
and runs in terror.

As he runs, he is no longer engaged in the battle at all. As soon as he turns, all the
things he sees are not part of some whole that he is one of, as was in the previous
chapter when the battle began. All the things he sees‹the lieutenant, the battery, the
general‹are now not part of him. He assumes that he is above them all. It is Henry's
superior observation and senses that lead him to flee the battle scene. All those who stay
are fools who will soon be devoured by that same red and green monster that Henry fled. He
even goes as far to feel that the general of the troops is a fool who knows not what he is
doing. They are all machines or fools, not higher beings like he.

To match this, the images we get are mostly peripheral. This follows Henry's vision. He
does not stop until he reaches the general. He has thoughts about the men and the battery,
for example. Yet for the most part, he does not pay attention to them. Their images are
fleeting, vague senses of men running. The most fleeting image, which we never actually
see, is that red and green monster in pursuit of Henry. He is convinced he hears it behind
him as he runs. However, he is wrong about impending doom. His regiment held their ground.
He does not find this until he stops running, and his vision is still. His reaction to
this discovery begins in the next chapter.

Chapter 7 Analysis:
Henry's reaction to finding his perceptions of impending doom were incorrect is a similar
mix of emotions that we saw before. Though they are now more intense. He is no long
postulating on what may one day happen. He has run from the battle. And he must now figure
out how to interpret his own feelings.

At first he feels as if he has been caught committing a crime. He then looks towards the
battlefield. Above the forest where he was fighting, he sees a yellow fog. This is an
incredibly important metaphor. The color of cowardice, yellow, covers his view of the past
battle and his actions. Though he moves almost instantly to thoughts of his superior
intelligence justifying his running, he is in no way "sagacious" as he believes. He is
still very young. He panicked during battle and ran. The yellow fog represents an
overlying emotion to the battle and Henry's thoughts about it.

The reason his actions can be seen as cowardice is not because he ran trying to preserve
himself. He ran because he was convinced that his regiment was about to be annihilated.
Because this is not true, he must reorganize his own thoughts about what he just did. To
do this, he walks into a different wood, trying to get away from the battle.

In the forest, the sounds of the battle grow quiet. His "return to Nature" is somewhat
akin to Thoreau's in Walden. He attempts to take lessons from nature in some way. Yet,
what he is doing is not learning from nature, but rather finding some kind of
justification for his actions. When he muses on the squirrel running from his thrown
pinecone and how it somehow explains his running from danger, he is only explaining a
situation that has already happened. The interpretation is not valid. Nature is not a
place of peace, as he believes. It can be, for the forest is quiet. Yet, his encounter
with the corpse proves it is not. The uniform, which used to be the blue of the Union
army, has faded to green, the same color as the dragon from which he fled during battle.
In this place of peace, Henry meets that same green animal of death.

He is once again filled with horror. He runs from the green-colored corpse, but in a
different way than when he fled the green monster of battle. He tries to perceive the
corpse as he leaves. He first sneaks away backwards, watching the body to make sure it
will not rise up again. When he finally turns and runs, he is not thinking of a metaphor,
of the force of battle; he is thinking of the one corpse, with its flesh and eyes. He does
imagine things that are not there, like the corpse's voice. Yet even one person by himself
away from the battle must face some form of death. He could not get away from this, even
though he tried.

Chapter 8 Analysis:
"A crimson roar from the distance" breaks the tranquility of the forest. This color
signifies war and conflict once again. Yet, what truly interrupts the peace, more than the
fighting itself, is its gruesome outcomes. Henry had a glance of this in the previous
chapter, when encountering the corpse in the forest. Soon he will see the effects of the
war on the bodies of men.

He can see the gray of battle from where he stands. He is long away from the grayness; but
upon the road, he soon sees men wounded from that battle from which he fled. They are
bloodstained, with both new and old blood, looking red and black. Between battle and the
dead are these men. They have the marks of war obviously upon them, and it turns them into
walking specters. Henry has been imagining these ghosts of battle for a long time. Now he
sees and interacts with them. They are so unlike the real living as soldiers that they do
not defer quietly to an officer, and even insult him, something no real soldier would do.

One tattered soldier approaches him in all this. What is interesting about this man is the
amount he speaks. Henry, so caught up in his own considerations, musings, and emotions,
cannot think of a thing to say, even when asked direct questions. This man has facility of
language, and uses it thoroughly. Henry has not yet mastered it, having fled from his
battle. He cannot speak about it or his wounds, for he knows nothing about them. In this
context, this tattered man is full of words. He knows both about battle and wound.
Therefore, his direct questions cut Henry to the quick. They show his immaturity and
cowardice, though they do so without malice. Henry cannot process these and, like before
when faced with an unknown, runs away.


Chapter 9 Analysis:
The beginning of this chapter stands out because of its specific reference to a "red badge
of courage." The youth wishes he actually had a wound, which would show his bravery in the
face of the terrors and struggles of battle. However, he sees the effects of these red
badges in an upfront way when confronted with the spectral figure of Jim Conklin. The tall
soldier has been wounded twice. The badges he carries prevent him from walking and
thinking clearly.

Furthermore as they walk together, the gray fear and unknown is still with Jim, despite
his wounds. His face turns gray as he tells Henry that he fears being trampled to death by
the speeding artillery carts. This shows that the phantoms of battle and death, the gray
unknown, do not escape even those who have a red badge of courage.

Henry, though he finally wants to act for the first time since the battle, cannot do
anything. Jim will not let him even touch him. Besides, death is so close for Jim that
there is nothing the youth can do. This frustration and anger at seeing his friend die
makes Henry weep so much, that he cannot talk. Henry's words and thoughts are finally
halted. He is no longer thinking now. Remember that he was still interpreting the images
he saw as the fled from battle; now, he can do little but cry.

After Jim dies and Henry rushes up to his body, we see a transition from blue to red. The
flap of Jim's uniform falls open, showing his side, which looks "as if it has been chewed
by wolves." The blue musings of Henry have now transformed into a red reality. Wounds are
not just outward marks; they have consequences on the body. While he may have desired to
be seen with a badge of courage, Henry now realizes that these marks can lead to death.

Henry, still a youth, mistakenly calls this situation "hell" as the red sun sinks in the
horizon. The red suggests this vision; and yet, while it may resemble his views of hell,
he has not yet seen hell or even a battle to its conclusion. His views about red badges
and war will undergo even more changes as the book moves on.

Chapter 10 Analysis:
Henry still remains speechless, unable to act as this chapter opens. His companion, the
tattered soldier, speaks as much as anyone in this book has up to this point. The chapter
is dominated with his words. He can speak easily and freely. Because of his wounds, he
feels woozy and strange; and he rambles throughout the chapter.

Henry, on the other hand, barely says anything. He has just witnessed his friend from home
die and was unable to prevent it. He is in a line of wounded men, himself not wounded and
in fact having fled from a battle, which his regiment won. Unlike the tattered man, he is
not free to talk. He cannot interact with the tattered man or even like him. His actions
and experience are totally different. And given the recent circumstances, he cannot feel
like the tattered man. Therefore, he does not speak.

What he does do is walk. In doing so, Henry finally detaches himself from the wounded and
their "red badges." Not having one, he cannot tell the tattered man where he is hit. The
shame from this fundamental realization makes him finally leave the scene.

The tattered man, however, feels that the youth is wounded and yet does not know it. He
calls after him, in his confused way, to stop and not go. "It ain't right," he says, for
Henry to just walk away. Yet Henry must. He does not belong to these people, who bring
"ghosts of shame" into his mind. Furthermore, these men, though they have red badges of
courage, are near to death. This fact dominates the scene. Henry fled battle to save
himself. Though he wants some mark of courage for himself, this is not the procession he
should be in. Therefore, he flees the stinging questions of the tattered man. Now he runs
toward the battle, instead of away from it.

Chapter 11 Analysis:
Unlike the previous chapter, which was dominated by the spoken words of one character,
chapter eleven is a return to Henry's tortured, varied thoughts. He sees two conflicting
images. First, he sees men driving wagons with horses and mules, fleeing a battle scene.
These men have wild looks in their eyes. He initially feels that they justify his own
fleeing. Notice, however, that their looks are animal and that they are driving animals.

In contrast, the troops going into the thick of battle have neither animal-like look nor
animals accompanying them. These men seem to Henry to be superhuman. They march into
battle in images of light and beauty, full of grace and dignity. At first these thoughts
make him feel the urge to fight. He is described as soaring on "the red wings of war."
Again war is described as something red, but now as a part of an animal, which Henry can
assumedly fly upon.

However, his next thoughts kill his own courage. He fears returning to his regiment and
bearing their questions and stares. This makes the wings fail. In order to master his
fears of war, this images suggests, Henry cannot rely on his animal instincts. They return
him to thoughts of his flight, during which he succumbed to his most animal-like impulses.
Remember now the squirrel in the forest; fleeing does not make a hero. And Henry Fleming
still wants to be hero.

This desire is so strong, it make him wish he were dead or that the army, which he should
care about as a body and cause greater than himself, is defeated. Therefore evidence of
his flight or the reasons for it would not matter. He does not see how he can still be a
hero, despite his flight. Therefore he refers to himself in absolute terms in his grief,
as villain and selfish.

However, his thoughts of his tortured return to his regiment still show his youth. As we
will see very soon, his return to camp is not the torture he imagines. Yet it is
interesting that he thinks that he will be reduced to "a slang phrase" by camp gossip, for
in the context of the narrative, he is already a slang phrase‹"the youth." He must go
back to camp and face battle again to cease existing as a slang phrase. For as long as he
does not face these fears, the book suggests, he will always be simply "the youth."


Chapter 12 Analysis:
Interestingly, the same troops who sent Henry on such a fit of philosophy about war and
bravery soon turn tail and flee battle themselves. Their flight lends to a general air of
confusion and commotion, with troops, officers, artillery, and cavalry all going in
different directions, all making different noises. The scene is so confusing that Henry is
again speechless and thoughtless. He can only blubber out his lack of understanding,
repeating to himself and others, "Why? Why?"

It is in this confusion that he gets a wound. Being hit on the head does not help Henry's
understanding of what is going on around him. And yet it is a real wound, with blood,
resembling the red badge that he had wished for earlier. It comes to resemble a "red
badge" in certain senses, as we will see in the next chapter.

Continues for 18 more pages >>