Tuesday, May 12, 2009

The Red Badge of Courage. Stephen Crane.

New York: Washington Square Press. 1894/1962.

Why read it? (Novel) Stephen Crane had never experienced a battle. Yet he was able to portray vividly the mind and impressions of the ordinary foot soldier. You are there with Henry Fleming as he goes from a belief that he will be courageous in war to flight and then to re-engagement in the confusing and frustrating circumstances of the Civil War. However, this is not so much a war story as it is the portrait of the mind of a young recruit as he engages in his first experience of war. It’s a psychological and impressionistic novel. Crane had been much influenced by the philosophy of warfare as displayed in Tolstoy’s War and Peace. Confusion, luck, irony and destruction of minds and bodies.

Sample quotes:

“He had the belief that real war was a series of death struggles with small time in between for sleep and meals; but since his regiment had come to the field the army had done little but sit still and try to keep warm.” p. 7. ………. “…sudden spatter of firing.” p. 9. ………. “They were going to look at war, the red animal—war, the blood-swollen God.” p. 27.

“During this halt many men in the regiment began erecting tiny hills in front of them…used stones, sticks, earth, and anything they thought might turn a bullet…in a short time there was quite a barricade along the regimental fronts…. However, they were ordered to withdraw from that place.” p. 27. ………. “Some wished to fight like duelists, believing it to be correct to stand erect and be, from their feet to their foreheads, a mark…but the others scoffed in reply, and pointed to the veterans on the flanks who were digging at the ground like terriers.” p. 28. ………. “A shell screaming like a storm banshee went over the huddled heads of the reserves…landed in the grove, and exploding redly flung the brown earth…a little shower of pine needles.” p. 33.

“Bullets began to whistle among the branches and nip at the trees; twigs and leaves came sailing down…as if a thousand axes, wee and invisible, were being wielded…. Men were constantly dodging and ducking their heads.” p. 33. ………. “The men dropped here and there like bundles.” p. 40. ………. “As he gazed around him the youth felt a flash of astonishment at the blue, pure sky and the sun gleaming on the trees and fields…. Surprising that nature had gone tranquilly on with her golden process in the midst of so much devilment.” p. 42.

“On his face was the horror of those things which he imagined.” p. 46. ………. “He had fled, he told himself, because annihilation approached…had done a good part in saving himself, who was a little piece of the army…had considered the time to be one in which it was the duty of every little piece to rescue itself if possible…. Later the officers could fit the pieces together again, and make a battle front…. If none of the little pieces were wise enough to save themselves from the flurry of death at such a time, why, then where would be the army. …all plain that he had proceeded according to very correct and commendable rules…actions had been sagacious…had been full of strategy.” p. 51.

Comment: And so, Henry Fleming had fled and justified it in his own mind. If he did not save himself, how would he live to fight another day? He would go on to be accidentally hit on the head by a fellow soldier’s rifle, would be bandaged up, would be, therefore, “wounded” and had received his “red badge of courage.” Now he could fight with courage as if he were one with all the other men around him. No question about it. Stephen Crane, without ever having experienced a battle, was able to vividly depict the mind and impressions of the foot soldier. An impressive novel. RayS.

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