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Youth of Red Badge of Courage and Youth of Today
As a young member of today’s society, I don’t fear death. If I did fear death, I would be "dead." There are so many sources of death today, like car wrecks, shootings, drugs, and diseases that if I was constantly afraid of all of them, I couldn’t leave my own backyard. Therefore, I refuse to believe that death will happen to me. In the novel The Red Badge of Courage, by Stephen Crane, the 19th century youth, like youths of today, is unafraid of death, but his reasoning is different, so he actually welcomes death.
The average youth of today isn’t afraid of death because it seems to happen to other people. Death is distant. Every day, we read about people being killed in this or drowned in that but it never happens to someone we know. If someone we know does die, we are shocked and forced to reconsider our lives because, for an instant, we realize that we could die as well.
Unlike us, the youth in The Red Badge of Courage knows about death first hand, and he is unafraid. When the youth was young, his father died. Through the novel, the youth is fighting in the bloodiest war on American soil and the war that caused the most casualties per capita of any U.S. war. He has seen corpses and walked with dying men. He was trying to help one of his injured friends when his friend died convulsively. Earlier in his experiences, especially when he first encountered fighting, he was immensely afraid of death, so afraid that he ran away from battle. During the passage, and later in the novel, he knows that he could die at any time but he is unapprehensive.
When death does strike a loved one, I feel that it is unfair. "Why," I ask, " Did granny have to die? She was such a kind old woman. Why couldn’t some bum have died instead?" I didn’t want her to die and I feel like she was undeserving of death. Likewise, the youth feels like death is unfair but in just the opposite way. He wishes that death would not fall on the Unknown Soldier, but would fall on him. Like us, he sees death as brought on by luck and being unfair, but unlike us, during this passage, he thinks that death is lucky.
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Why did he desire death? He thought that he had lost all of his honor and the only way to regain that honor was to die. He felt that he was the worst person in the world, "the most unutterably selfish man in existence." Earlier in the novel, he ran away from battle and then he went on to wish that the army would lose the battle so he could regroup with his regiment without shame. These thoughts that he "tried to thrust ... away" went against every bit of his honor and training. Naturally, once he had time to consider them, he felt selfish. He wished that he could regain the honor that he had originally joined the army for, but he thinks that he is so selfish that it is impossible to ever regain honor. He wants to die because the dead are honored even if they, like the youth, don’t deserve that honor. Here is another difference between the youth and the youths of today. The few modern youths who desire death do so because they want to escape this world, and not because they want to gain honor.
This passage contains writing typical of the novel. The last sentence of the first paragraph, like many other sentences in the novel, is very long, with multiple clauses and fanciful description. Good description, such as the personification of battle into "the yelling battle fiend," and metaphors like "robes of glorious memories," peppers the passage as well as the novel. The author uses distinctive words like "unutterably" to enhance the sharpness of the writing. This passage is also typical because it all occurs in the youth’s mind, just like much of the novel, although the youth’s thoughts are not in quotes: a convention of the time period.
The youth in The Red Badge of Courage is brave in the face of death, while youths of today lack fear of death simply because we don’t think that death could strike us. Stephen Crane supports this illustration of the youth’s thoughts with quality description and word choice. The youth knows all about death, and wants to die in order to regain his honor. Later in the book the youth goes on to rejoin his regiment. His attitude of not being afraid of death, and actually looking for it, enables him to be one of the best soldiers in his regiment. He leads his unit in a frenzy, carrying the flag in front with incredible bravery. The youth finally finds the honor he thought he could only get by dying, when he is successful in battle and commended by officers.