The Red Badge of Courage

Crane, Stephen. The Red Badge of Courage and Other Stories. New York: Signet Classics, 1997. Henry Fleming joins the army believing himself destined for a glorious tour of duty as a Union soldier in the American Civil War. He instead finds boredom and horror. As the true sting of war bears down on him, the introspective Henry struggles with his place in an indifferent universe, vainly trying to keep faith in his own courage. Interestingly, he is most heroic when he seems the least himself, as anger and rage prove better motivators than glory. Crane deftly shows a soldier caught between hope and despair, between valor and cowardice. His objective narrator seems almost a removed god, disconnectedly watching his creations as they stumble and fail. This tone imparts a grittiness to the novella that reflects Henry’s dire situation; but it also puts the reader in the position of disinterested onlooker. It is a tricky position to be in, because it makes Henry’s passion seems as meaningless as his fear. But Crane also punctuates his narrative with illustrative passages that bring the war into lurid and gory detail. And these horrors make it impossible not to sympathize with Henry’s plight. This edition of the novella presents different versions of Crane’s text. It’s a fascinating window into the mind of the author as he struggles to find the right words and the right edits, but it also diminishes (slightly) the full impact of the tale, because the reader is taken out of the story with each edit mark. As such, it is probably best to save this edition for the re-read. Also included in this edition: The Upturned Face, The Open Boat, The Blue Hotel, and The Bride Comes to Yellow Sky; each is worthy of it's own review.