Symbolism in Crane’s The Red Badge of Courage

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In the novel The Red Badge of Courage, by Stephan Crane, the author uses symbolism to illustrate the main character’s actions and the setting’s scenery. Henry Fleming, the protagonist of the novel, cannot decide whether he can be a hero or if he will fall as a coward. The symbolism used in The Red Badge of Courage represents Henry’s decision to fight proudly and how common items mean more than what meets the eye.

Stephan Crane was born in 1871 in New Jersey. At the age of twenty-two, he published his first novel, Maggie: A Girl of the Streets. Later on, Crane wrote sketches and short stories for newspapers in New York. It was not until his second novel, The Red Badge of Courage, got published in 1895 that he became a well-known author. He died at the age of twenty-eight in 1900. He is one of the best-known American authors that wrote about naturalism. (Hafer)

Stephan Crane’s novel The Red Badge of Courage is about a vast decision that the main character has to face. Henry Fleming is a young man, referred to as “the youth” or “Flem,” that has just enlisted into the Union army. The novel first starts out as Henry’s regiment is resting on a riverbank. Rumors flow around the campsite

saying that they will soon move into battle. Once they do, the regiment starts to hear the distant sounds of the battlefront. It is Henry’s first battle and he is terrified. He asks his friend, Jim Conklin, if he would run away from the fight. Jim tells Henry that if the regiment runs, then he will run but if they stay, then he will stay and fight by their side. The regiment finally gets to the battle and starts to fight. After, Henry is proud and cannot believe that he survived his first encounter. After a short nap, Henry wakes ...

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...ng of courage (Ford 168-169) (Hoffman 129-131).

Works Cited

Conrad, Joseph. “ His War Book: Stephan Crane,” Last Essays: 1926. Rpt in TCLC. Detroit: Gale, 1989.

Crane, Stephan. The Red Badge of Courage. New York: Tom Doherty, 1987.

Ford, Madox. “Stephan Crane: Symbolism,” The American Mercury: 1936. Rpt in TCLC. Detroit: Gale, 1989.

Hafer, Carol B. “The Red Badge of Absurdity: Irony in ‘The Red Badge of Courage’,” Bloom's Major Novelists: Stephen Crane: 2002. Infobase publishing.

Hoffman, Michael J. “From Realism to Naturalism,” The Subversive Vision: American Romanticism in Literature: 1972. Detroit: Gale, 1989.

Pizer, Donald. “’The Red Badge of Courage’: Text, Theme, and Form,” South Atlantic Quarterly: 1985. Detroit: Gale, 1989.

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