The Red Badge of Courage

Published: 2021-07-01 08:17:48
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Category: Adolescence, Courage, Entrepreneurship, Red Badge of Courage

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Growing up during the naturalism and realism literary movements, and experiencing combat in Cuba and Greece first hand influenced Stephen Crane's outlook in his novel The Red Badge of Courage that no matter what it takes, all living things will do whatever they can to save themselves, and that the world continues to spin regardless of human existence. The literary movements that influenced his writing the most were naturalism and realism. Naturalism uses detailed realism to suggest that social conditions, heredity, and environment have an inescapable force in shaping human nature.
Crane uses this several times in The Red Badge of Courage. After Henry runs away from battle and is in the midst of rationalizing his behavior, he comes across a particularly tranquil spot in the woods: “At length he reached a place where the high, arching boughs made a chapel. He softly pushed the green doors aside and entered. Pine needles were a gentle brown carpet. There was a religious half-light” (7. 18). He notices "A dead man [with] eyes […] changed to the dull hue to be seen on the side of a dead fish" (7. 20).
This is where Henry comes to realize that nature and the universe have no interest in this dead man, nor do they have an interest in whether Henry himself lives or dies. There is simply nothing out there to help or save him or anyone else. This is a shocking lesson for him, and one that shatters his notions of the way things work. This is also Crane’s way of introducing the philosophy of "Naturalism" into the novel. Naturalists were influenced by Darwin’s theory of evolution, which places a strong emphasis on evolution.

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Literary Naturalists reject the notion of free will and see humans as controlled primarily by instinct, emotion, and culture. This idea makes Henry’s behavior more random and explainable, rather than a growth toward maturity, or a rise toward heroism, through his exertion of free choice and decision. As he is faced with even more death, he finds that the termination of life is an inevitable part of life: "He had been to touch the great death, and found that, after all, it was but the great death" (24. 1).
Henry realizes that no matter the amount of bravery or courage, the world has created the same fate for all those who live, they all must die. Crane implies this through images of nature’s beauty contrasted with man’s bloody brutality, and he exploits this paradox many times throughout the novel. Since Crane was a big believer in Naturalism, he wanted to show that death should not be romanticized, but should be looked at straight on in as dispassionate and scientific a way as possible.
The vulnerabilities of dead men make death seem like a very real physical phenomenon, rather than the journey of one’s spirit to either heaven or hell. Henry, too, is affected by viewing the dead. He sees that the dead do not know more than he does, and that they do not experience anything paranormal. He also realizes that he could just as easily be among them -- that dying is as random and meaningless as war, or anything else. The second literary movement that influenced Crane’s writing is realism. Realism is a term that can refer to any work that aims at honest portrayal over sensationalism, exaggeration, or melodrama.
The Red Badge of Courage displays characteristics of Realism writing. Henry is a regular guy put into an extraordinary situation. Crane uses figurative language in the forms of imagery and dialect. Another realism trait in The Red Badge of Courage is that nature is viewed as protection and a hindrance for Henry in several different cases throughout the story. For example, Crane writes, “... Another important event in Crane's lifetime that influenced him in writing The Red Badge of Courage is his firsthand experience when he entered combat in Cuba and Greece.
Though he didn't actually enter combat until after his novel was written, his thirst to not just see a battle, but die in one, influenced his writing greatly. After finishing the novel, his hunger for the experience of war grew due to the fact that he wanted to see if his account of the Civil War was correct. Also, Crane's father was a minister, though they did not share the same beliefs, which is probably the reason Crane used so many Biblical references in his writing.
For example, Crane wrote, "The red sun was pasted in the sky like a wafer"(9. 4). The wafer Crane is referring to is the wafer of communion. In the Christian sacrament of communion, believers eat the "body of Christ" through communion wafers and red wine. He does this to comment on the concept of men having to die in order to save other men, similar to Jesus dying on the cross to save humans from their sins. The chapter that deals with the death of Jim Conklin-his initials are J. C. , similar to Jesus Christ- promotes Jim as a sort of Christ-figure who through his painful death helps "redeem" Henry.
Critical Analysis Critics such as Maxwell Geismer and Bernard Weismer point out how Crane uses themes of courage, nature’s disregard of human life, and manhood to show the development of a young man from youth to maturity. Although the novel ps no more than a few weeks, a profound change in the characters of both Henry and Wilson occurs. Though these men do not technically age during the course of the book, the psychological development that they experience can be described as the development from youth into maturity.
Innocence gives way to experience, and the speculative beliefs of adolescents make way for the guaranteed, solid beliefs of men. In addition, James Trammell Cox shows how Crane uses symbols such as the dead soldier and the characters of Jim Conklin and Wilson to show the transitions man must experience both mentally and physically to complete the journey from adolescence to manhood. Because of the novel’s title, it becomes evident that courage,—defining it, desiring it, and, ultimately, achieving it—is the most significant part of the book.
As the novel opens, Henry’s view of courage is traditional and romantic. He assumes that he will return from battle either with his shield or on it. This understanding of courage is based on the praise of peers more than the internal measure of his bravery. In the first chapter, Henry recollects his mother’s advice, which opposes his own philosophies. She doesn’t care about the praiseworthiness of Henry’s name, but instructs him to do what he thinks is honest and right, even if he has to die doing it.
The gap between Henry’s definition of courage and his mother’s suggestion fluctuates throughout The Red Badge of Courage, sometimes dwindling, and sometimes flourishing. At the end of the novel, as the mature Henry trudges triumphantly from battle, a more refined and multifaceted understanding of courage arises. It is not purely based on other people’s perceptions, but it does integrate a soldier’s regard for his reputation. Another theme express throughout the novel is the universe’s disregard for human nature.
Henry’s newly found awareness that the natural world spins on irrespective of the routine in which men live and die is the toughest lesson that Henry learns. It deprives him of his naive, innocent beliefs concerning courage and manhood. Not long after his encounter with the squirrel in the woods, Henry stumbles upon a dead soldier whose decaying body works as a reminder of the universe’s disregard of human life. As the drama of the war continues on around him, Henry occupies his mind with questions regarding the nature of courage and honor and the likelihoods of gaining glory.
Death, he assumes, would stop the war cold. Yet, when he encounters the corpse, he finds that death is nothing more than a vital and ordinary part of life. Henry’s happenstances with the squirrel and the corpse become the most important parts of the book, because in this place, Crane creates the formidable opposing forces in Henry’s mind: the belief that human’s deserves courage and honor, and the realization that all human life faces the same inevitable doom. Throughout the novel, Henry struggles to save his manhood.
At first, he relies on very passe ideas. He is saddened that education and religion have repressed men of their natural viciousness and made them so domestic that there are very few ways for a man to tell himself apart from others, other than on the battlefield. Having this chance makes Henry feel indebted to be taking part in the war. As he makes his way from one battle to the next, he becomes more and more persuaded that his experiences will gain him women’s praise and men’s envy, and he will become a real man in their eyes.
These early ideas of manhood are crude, idealistic, youthful illusions. The dead soldier represents the unimportance of human trepidations. Henry stumbles over the corpse, decaying and covered by ants, right after convincing himself that he was right to flee battle and that the welfare of the army depends upon soldiers being wise enough to save themselves. Then the dead soldier, whose facelessness strips him of any public acknowledgement of courage and forces Henry to begin to question the standards by which he measures his actions.
Similarly, characters such as Jim Conklin and Wilson undergo a change in which, they two realize that the completion of this transition lies within oneself. Jim Conklin and Wilson stand as symbols of a more human kind of manhood. They are confident without being show-offs and are eventually able to take responsibility for their shortcomings. Wilson, who begins the novel as an obnoxious and loud soldier, later reveals his vulnerability when he requests that Henry deliver a yellow envelope to his family if he dies in battle.
In realizing the unimportance of his life, Wilson is able to free himself from the chains that bind Henry. By the end of the book, Henry takes a confident step in the same direction, learning that his manhood lies within the way he owns up to his mistakes and responsibilities rather than in his actions on the battlefield. Modern day Connection On August 28, 1963, Martin Luther King Jr. delivered the “I Have a Dream Speech” at the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D. C. His speech was a demonstration for freedom, in which he was fighting for the equality of colored people all around the world.
This speech made history, but his story wasn’t over. At 6:01 p. m. on April 4, 1968, a shot rang out. Martin Luther King, a man of great courage, was assassinated for standing up for what he believed in. King hasn’t been the only demonstration of courage in history. Libyans are making history as we speak. Similar to Crane's using the Civil War to show how a young soldier struggles to define and achieve courage, recently, the Libyans rebelled against their government to get rid of the corruption that is taking over their country, and, hopefully, develop some sort of democracy and gain human rights.
Libya has been ruled for 42 years by a shrewd, unconventional dictator who has often called his own people "backwards. " Fifty percent of his 6. 5 million subjects are minors. Although Libya contains many plentiful oil revenues, which provide most of the national budget, most children are starving and weak. Corruption is rampant, protestors are brutally suppressed, and many citizens are afraid that even speaking Quaddafi’s name in public will attract suspicion.
Instead, they call him "the leader" and his son, Seif, "the principal. " Punishments are so extreme that even discussing national policy with a foreigner results in three years in prison. Reporters have commonly described press freedom in Libya as "virtually non-existent. " Unemployment rates are just about 30 percent, and those that do have jobs only work part-time. Basic foods—including rice, sugar, flour, gasoline—are heavily subsidized by the government and sold for a fraction of their true cost.
A 2006 New Yorker article claimed that Libya had"prosperity without employment and large populations of young people without a sense of purpose. " Encouraged by pro-democracy rebellions across the Arab world, Libyan protestors had planned a "day of rage" for Thursday, February 17. Two days before their plan was able to be put into action, security forces arrested a prominent lawyer named Fathi Terbil, who had represented families of some of the prisoners slaughtered by Libyan security forces at Abu Slim prison in 1996.
Once released from prison later that day, he set up a webcam overlooking Benghazi’s main square, where some of the families had been remonstrating. With help from exiled Libyans in Canada and around the world, the video spread rapidly on the Internet. Courage played a huge role in the development of this rebellion, and the fight for Libyans to build a democracy and gain human rights. It is reported that the Libyan ambassador in London resigned simply so he could join protests outside of the embassy and fight for the well-being of the Libyan people.
Also, Egypt and Libya have both set up field hospitals on their borders and are trying to send help. A group of Libyan military officers have allowed the revealing of a statement calling on all members of the Libyan army to join the protesters. Advertisements in Guinea and Nigeria are offering up to $2,000 per day to fight as soldiers for the Libyan army. People across the world are teaming up and courageously taking a stand in order to achieve the freedom they are so desperately searching for.

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