Tuesday, October 7, 2014
The Red Badge of Courage by Stephen Crane
First Published 1895
Source: I bought this for my kids through the elementary school
During an unnamed battle, 18-year-old private Henry Fleming survives what he considers to be a lost cause by escaping into a nearby wood, deserting his battalion. He finds a group of injured men in which one of the group, the "Tattered Soldier", asks Henry, who's often referred to as "The Youth", where he's wounded. Henry, embarrassed that he's whole, wanders thru the forest. He ultimately decides that running was the best thing and that he's a small part of the army responsible for saving himself.
When he learns that his battalion had won the battle, Henry feels guilty. As a result, he returns to his battalion and is injured when a cannon operator hits him in the head because he wouldn't let go of his arm. When he returns to camp, the other soldiers believe he was harmed by a bullet grazing him in battle. The next morning he goes into battle for a 3rd time. While looking for a stream from which to attain water, he discovers from the commanding officer that his regiment has a lackluster reputation. The officer speaks casually about sacrificing Henry's regiment because they're nothing more than "mule drivers" and "mud diggers". 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 as well as the flag bearer, finally proving his courage as a man.
Blah, blah classic. Blah, blah first book that portrayed war realistically. Blah, blah must read. So I did. And now I can mark that off my list. I'm not saying it wasn't well written; there were parts I really thought were brilliant. Then there were parts that I thought were just overblown wordiness.
Honestly, some of the time, I couldn't figure out what the heck was going on and I'm not sure that Crane even knew. Maybe that was the point? That in the chaos of battle, things get turned topsy-turvy and you can't tell which way you're going? I swear there was a long scene, though, where wounded soldiers were fleeing the battle scene and then troops racing into battle overtook them.
I couldn't find a good summary of this book that gave you the idea of what the story was about without giving away the whole book but I'm not sure it matters. This book is much more about what is going on in the heads of the soldiers, Henry's in particular, than in their movements. Henry vacillates between being concerned that he won't be courageous to feeling he is, indeed a courageous man; between feeling certain that he is a coward to being certain that running was the right thing to do; between feeling terror in the face of the enemy and pure, animal hatred of them. For a man who was born after the Civil War and, at the time he wrote this book, had never experienced war, Crane seems to have had a firm grasp on the inner workings of a young soldier's mind.
So I know it was a good book. But I was bored by it.