The Red Badge of Courage

9474 Words38 Pages
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.

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