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Teen Reader

The Red Badge of Courage

 

The Red Badge of Courage

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About the Author

Stephen Crane

 

Stephen Crane (1871-1900)

One of America's most influential realist writers, Stephen Crane produced works that have been credited with establishing the foundations of modern American naturalism. His Civil War novel The Red Badge of Courage (1895) realistically depicts the psychological complexities of battlefield emotion and has become a literary classic. Born on November 1, 1871, in Newark, New Jersey, Crane was the 14th and last child of writer/suffragist Mary Helen Peck Crane and Reverend Jonathan Townley Crane, a Methodist Episcopal minister. Raised by his older sister Agnes, the young Crane attended preparatory school at Claverack College. He later spent less than two years overall as a college student at Lafayette College in Easton, Pennsylvania, and then at Syracuse University in upstate New York. He then moved to Paterson, New Jersey with one of his brothers and made frequent trips to nearby New York City, writing short pieces on what he experienced there.

In 1895, Crane published what would become his most famous novel, The Red Badge of Courage. A work that followed an individual soldier's emotional experiences in the midst of a Civil War battle, Courage became renowned for its perceived authenticity and realistic depictions of violent conflict. Crane had in fact never been in military combat, constructing scenes from research and what he referred to as skirmishes on the football field.  

Due to Crane's new reputation as a war writer, as well as his curiosity about his accuracy in depicting psychological states of combat, he undertook a new career: war correspondent. In 1897, Crane set sail for Cuba to report on the insurrection there. However, after the ship on which he was traveling, the SS Commodore, sank, Crane spent more than a day adrift with three other men. His account of the ordeal resulted in one of the world's great short stories, "The Open Boat."

Unable to get to Cuba, in April 1898 Crane went to Greece to report on the Greco-Turkish War. After an armistice was signed between Greece and Turkey in May of that year, Crane and Taylor left Greece for England. Crane had continued to write, publishing two books of poetry as well as George's Mother in 1896, The Third Violet in 1897 and Active Service in 1899. But mostly negative reviews of every novel since Courage caused his literary reputation to dwindle. Despite Courage being in its 14th printing, Crane was running out of money partially due to an ostentatious lifestyle.

On top of his mounting financial troubles, Crane's health had been deteriorating for a few years; he had contracted everything from malaria to yellow fever during his Bowery years and time as a war correspondent. In May 1900, Crane, along with Cora Taylor, checked into a health spa on the edge of the Black Forest in Germany. One month later, on June 5, 1900, Crane died of tuberculosis at the age of 28, the same age at which his sister Agnes had passed. (From Biography.com)

The Red Badge of Courage (1895)

Taking place during the American Civil War, the story is about a young private of the Union Army, Henry Fleming, who flees from the field of battle. Overcome with shame, he longs for a wound, a "red badge of courage," to counteract his cowardice. When his regiment once again faces the enemy, Henry acts as standard-bearer.  Although Crane was born after the war, and had not at the time experienced battle first-hand, the novel is known for its realism. He began writing what would become his second novel in 1893, using various contemporary and written accounts (such as those published previously by Century Magazine) as inspiration. It is believed that he based the fictional battle on that of Chancellorsville; he may also have interviewed veterans of the 124th New York Volunteer Infantry Regiment, commonly known as the Orange Blossoms. Initially shortened and serialized in newspapers in December 1894, the novel was published in full in October 1895. (From Amazon.com)

Questions for Red Badge of Courage

If you were Henry, what would you say to Wilson before he turns away at the end of Chapter 3? What would you plan to do in the upcoming battle? How might you prepare yourself physically, mentally, or emotionally, for what you plan to do?

Explain whether Henry’s actions make him a coward. What do you think about his decision to leave his regiment? Was it a smart decision? A moral or ethical decision? Explain whether you would have done the same thing in his position. Do you think you can truly know how you would react in such a situation without living through it? Why, or why not?

Evaluate and explain the significance of the title of this novel, The Red Badge of Courage. Based on what you have read so far (look to Chapter 9 for clues), what is a red badge of courage and why is it
significant to Henry? Why does he long for one?

Identify some of the different ideas about what it means to be a hero presented not only in Chapters 21–24, but in the novel as a whole. What vision of heroism do you think was portrayed at the novel’s end?
What did you learn about what it means to be a hero, both publicly and privately?

Which of Henry’s experiences in the war would you say has had the most effect on shaping him as a person? Explain why this event had such a strong effect on Henry using evidence from the text to
support your opinion.

(Questions from Rossvillechristian.com)

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