The Red Badge of Courage: Plot summary

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The Red Badge of Courage: Plot summary

Post by Rachid Amri on Fri Mar 14, 2008 7:00 pm

The Red Badge of Courage (1895) is an impressionistic novel by American author Stephen Crane,. The narrator tells about a young, 19-year-old boy named Henry Fleming, a recruit in the American Civil War. The story is about the meaning of courage. Although Crane was born after the war and had never seen battle himself, the novel is one of the most influential American anti-war stories ever written. Crane met and spoke with a number of veterans as a student and he created what is widely regarded as an unusually realistic depiction of a young man in battle.
His writing is notable for its detached and critical style, often addressing uncomfortable issues on a deeply psychological level in a way that was ground-breaking in the genre. Though Crane never names the battle in which Fleming participates, it is said in the sequel to The Red Badge of Courage, The Veteran, that Henry was fighting in the Battle of Chancellorsville in 1863. The battle was won by the Confederacy. There is a slight hint to the battle in The Red Badge of Courage when Henry wishes to say "All quiet on the Rappahannock" during combat as a joke to his comrades. This is in reference to the Rappahannock River, located adjacent to the site of the Battle of Chancellorsville.
Plot summary
The young soldier Henry Fleming survives a battle by running away and we are led through his emotional journey, as he tries to make sense of the reality of battle and his own role within it, often reaching rather self-serving and egocentric conclusions. He escapes into the forest and meets up with a group of injured men. The "Tattered Soldier" asks Henry who is often referred to as "The Youth" where he is wounded and he is embarrassed that he does not have any wounds. Henry wanders through the forest and decides that running was the best thing, and that he is a small part of the army responsible for saving himself.
Henry feels incredibly guilty when he learns that his battalion has won and that it wasn't a suicide mission after all. He returns to his battalion and is injured by another fleeing soldier who hits him on the head with his rifle. When he returns to camp, the other soldiers see his wound and think that he was harmed by a bullet grazing him in battle (because that is what he tells them, even though they think it looks awfully similar to someone hitting him on the head with a club). Afterwards, he goes into battle for the third time the next morning. While looking for a stream, he finds that his regiment has a horrible reputation from the commanding officer. The officer talks casually about sacrificing Henry's regiment because they are nothing more than "mule drivers" and "mud diggers." With no regiments to spare, the general orders his men forward. In the final battle, Henry becomes one of the best fighters in his battalion as well as the flag bearer. Many readers--and Henry--have felt that by mastering his fear and eventually leading a charge, young Henry has become a man.
List of main characters
Henry Fleming: aka "the youth". The young soldier protagonist. He deals with the terror of war and his own conscience. His idealistic and romanticized ideas of war are replaced by true courage and self-confidence.
Jim Conklin: aka "the tall soldier", later "the spectral soldier" after his injuries. One of Henry's friends who is gravely injured and who finally succumbs to his wounds in front of Henry. Critics have debated whether the character's initials and martyr-like death are meant as a parallel to Jesus Christ.
Tom Wilson: aka "the loud soldier", and later "the friend". Another of Henry's friends, who cares for him after his injury. Together, Wilson and Fleming attain maturity and courage and become the envy of their regiment.
List of minor characters
The tattered soldier: a badly injured soldier who shows concern for the supposedly injured Henry, prompting feelings of guilt on the young soldier's part.
The lieutenant: a young, foul-mouthed lieutenant in Henry's regiment.
The officers-commonly used in negative context and in general terms, usually portrayed "babbling" or yelling.
The injured soldiers
Henry's mother
The Cheery soldier
Style
In some ways Crane's style is ornate, as has been noted above, with profuse use of color and rampant metaphor in a way which was rare for his time. The blues and grays of the two sides of the American Civil War are often described as natural phenomena, swirling like clouds. Fleming's Regiment "was a broken machine".
In dialog, however, the style is earthy, written out to sound as close to the vernacular of the day as possible. This realism was later to inform many works but was relatively rare at the time.

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Re: The Red Badge of Courage: Plot summary

Post by Iibtihel on Fri Mar 14, 2008 10:04 pm

Short Summary

As The Red Badge of Courage opens, members of a newly recruited regiment are debating a fresh rumor‹they are finally going to move out on the next day and engage the enemy. One young soldier, named Henry Fleming, does not engage in the debate and instead reflects on what will become of him when he get to battle. Will he run or will he stand and fight bravely. He enlisted because he wanted to be a hero, thinking of Greek epics. His own mother, however, was not interested in such ideas, and discouraged him from enlisting. When he finally did, she did not have an impassioned speech for him. She merely says that if he is ever in a situation where he will be killed or do something wrong, he should go with his feelings. With these words, Henry left his home and entered his army duty.

He had not seen his foes yet, save a conversation with one across a riverbank late one night. The veterans tell them of gray, mad, rampaging hordes; but he does not trust their tales very much. However, he does not care who he fights, just that he will not run away. He is panicked at the proposition. He talks with other soldiers‹the tall one (named Jim Conklin) and the loud one (named Wilson). Both believe in themselves enough to say that they will fight as hard as they can, but neither goes as far to say that they definitely will not run.

The regiment does not move out on the rumored day, but soon thereafter. They march through other Union armies, dressed in blue. Their youth shows, as their uniforms still seem so new they gleam. Soon after, though, the tall soldier kicks Henry awake. The regiment is gathered and the men run down wood roads. During this time, Henry's thoughts are mixed and various. He feels that he should have never enlisted and misses his home. The next moment, he feels the overwhelming need to see a battle taking place. After he does so, upon cresting a hill and looking at a skirmish down below, he watches in quiet fascination, but does not desire to participate. Then, after the men march more and he sees his first dead body, he begins to suspect that they are being led to their slaughter, to be sacrificed to a red war god. He wants to tell his mates, but is afraid of their jibes and scoffing in return.

Soon, the regiment is facing an actual conflict. Wilson, the loud soldier, is so certain he will die that he gives Henry a packet of letters to send to his family. As they line up to fight, rumors fly again about the state of their army. Smoke and noise from guns rise around them. Bullets and shells whistle towards them. A regiment in front, already engaging the enemy, is beaten and flees the battleground. The youth imagines that they were beaten by a monster. He resolves to get a view of this monster, even if he very well may flee himself. The regiment is soon engaged. They work feverishly, firing and reloading. The smoke chokes them and makes their eyes red. Henry feels full of rage. Men fall occasionally around him. Soon, the enemy retreats. The men relax. Henry feels satisfied that he has overcome the trials of war.

However, the men have not rested for long when the Rebels attack again. They fight fiercely once more. Henry feels different this time. He feels that the monster of war, a red and green dragon, will come through the gray smoke and swallow him. After a few men around him flee, the youth's own fear gets the better of him. He drops his weapon and runs from the battle. As he goes through the forest and past cannons, he is sure that the dragon is pursuing him and that these others fighting against it are fools, going like lemmings to their death. However, as he finally stops by an officer, he finds that his regiment won the battle. He is thunderstruck. He realizes that he has done something very wrong, though he tries to justify it to himself that it was through superior powers of observation. He imagines the insults he will have to bear when returning to camp and attempts to get as far away from them and the monster of war as possible. He walks into a forest. The noises of the conflict gradually become fainter. He feels more at peace, that his actions are more in congress with nature. However, as he goes, he encounters a corpse, with a faded uniform. The glassy-eyed stare grabs him for a moment in fear. Then the youth slowly turns away, creeping from the body; then he turns and runs away as fast as he can.

He goes through the forest and into the open. He finds a road and walking upon it a procession of wounded soldiers. They are suffering and moaning as they limp down the road. A tattered soldier, wounded twice, tries to talk to Henry about the battle and where the youth has been shot. These questions bring his embarrassment and guilt out. He tries to run away in the crowd. He eventually runs into Jim Conklin, the tall soldier, wounded and near death. Henry tries to help him, but his friend is too close to death. The tattered man comes up to assist as well, but Jim runs off into the fields, where he staggers and falls over dead. The tattered man tries to talk more with Henry, telling him stories of men he knows in the army and how he became wounded. Again, the man asks Henry where his wounds are located. The youth tells him to not bother him, and slips away from the man, leaving him blubbering and wondering about in the field.

As he continues on, Henry eventually encounters a retreating band of carts and horses. This makes him feel temporarily good; if the whole army is retreating, his flight will not be so suspicious. However, soon a column of troops comes up the road. Henry looks at these men as brave, and he soon gets the will to fight. However, more thoughts come into his head. He considers that he is low and guilty. His comrades will see him as a worm. These thoughts make him thirst and ache. He tries to justify his flight in his head, but his emotions betray him. He wishes he were dead.

Soon, the column comes running out of the grove into which they marched. All is chaos and pandemonium. Henry is shocked to see that these heroic figures have been so quickly turned into scampering animals. He tries to stop one to ask him what happened, but only blubbers his words. The man hits him on the head with his rifle. Henry is dazed and injured. He wonders in the dark until a kind man helps him find his regiment.

There, no harsh words await him. Wilson and another soldier bandage his wound, which Henry claims is from a bullet. The others do not seem to care that much, just that he gets attention and rest, which he does. When he awakes, he finds that his friend, Wilson, is not so much the loud soldier he once was. He takes special care of Henry, is reflective, and breaks up fights around him. The youth notices this change from irritation to tranquility. However, he feels that he has a weapon against his friend‹the packet of letters he gave in haste at the beginning of the battle the day before. Fearful of being discovered as a coward, he imagines that with this packet he can ward off any shame that questioning from Wilson would give him. However, Wilson sheepishly asks for the packet before Henry can do anything. While he maintains a haughty air, the youth can say no barbs against his friend as he hands the envelope back to him.

The regiment today moves from one embankment to another, always taking cover and seeing some of battle, but not actually participating in it. The youth is now talkative, perhaps overly so. He tries to show his pride, and is silenced for it; for he knows that he in fact fled battle yesterday and was not shot. A sarcastic soldier cuts him down and later his lieutenant tells him to stop talking and start fighting. The regiment does this soon enough. They are attacked by the Rebels and repel them. This battle, Henry fights as if he were crazed, shooting at them long after the battle is finished. This makes some of the men look at him with curiosity. Henry regards himself as a barbarian.

Soon, Wilson and Henry take an opportunity to get water for the regiment. After they search for a stream unsuccessfully, they encounter a general and his staff in a road. In the midst of the conversation, they hear that their regiment of "mule drivers" is going to charge the enemy, with perhaps many casualties. They return to their fellow soldiers with this news, but do not tell them that the general doubted that they will survive.

The charge begins soon. It takes the regiment a minute, but they are soon running with haste at the enemy. Many are shot in the process. Henry now feels that he sees things clearly. He and the other men go into a frenzy. But eventually, they stop. The lieutenant yells, screams, and curses at them to continue. Wilson breaks the spell by firing his rifle. Others soon follow his lead. Soon, Henry sees the flag of his army, which revives him. As his color sergeant is soon shot, he leaps for the flag, along with Wilson, to hold it for himself. The battle rages on, with Henry holding the flag aloft. The men dig in slightly, as their numbers diminish. Henry is full of rage. He is thinking little, only feeling his anger. The lieutenant and Henry are both trying to get the men to continue. Soon, the officer sees that the men in gray are trying to advance onto their position. Automatically, the regiment fires into them, causing the enemy to retreat. Satisfied, they go back to their lines.

When they return, they are greeted with jeers from the veterans and reprimands from the higher officers. They stopped short of an impressive charge, they learn. The men, who had been so proud of themselves, find that their efforts are not seen as sufficient, let alone brave. Soon, though, Wilson and Henry here a story through one of their fellow soldiers that a colonel and lieutenant were discussing their particular prowess in battle. This fills their hearts with pride.

Soon, the battle is on again. The men in blue charge the men in gray once more. Again, the regiment finds itself in open territory, peppered by bullets. Henry is intent on standing upright, keeping the flag strong, though the men around him are still falling. Then the order comes to charge. The men to not shirk; they fix bayonets and wildly charge toward the gray smoke of the enemy's guns. On the other side, the youth knows, are the men who made this. He must see them. As they approach the enemy lines, the opposing flag comes into view. Wilson leaps at it and grabs it from the hands of the just-shot color sergeant. There are four prisoners of war, all looking very young and very human in their own faces. The men in blue are victorious.

Henry, upon walking away with the regiment, first feels pride in his accomplishments of battle. Then he remembers his flight and his treatment of the tattered man, and guilt riles up in him again. He is concerned his mate will see it. However, he eventually lets this go. He now sees his previous thoughts on war and battle as silly and is happy to find himself doing so. He has made it through the trials of battle, from the red and the black, and is changed into a man. The gold (instead of the yellow) of the sun streams through the clouds as he marches with his regiment.
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Re: The Red Badge of Courage: Plot summary

Post by rahma beji on Fri Mar 14, 2008 10:28 pm

SHORT PLOT/CHAPTER SUMMARY (Synopsis)

Despite all the action of the novel, Crane's emphasis is on the Youth's psychological and unconscious response to the battlefront. Henry Fleming begins the novel as an untried youth with all the misconceptions and mystifications of war that boys are raised to believe; as a result, he eagerly joins the Union army. At first he enjoys military life as his regiment marches in parades before cheering civilians. Soon, however, the Youth is disappointed to realize that army life is boring drudgery. His regiment is marched, drilled, and halted repeatedly. He despairs that he will never see action.

The build-up to the action magnifies his fears about being courageous in battle. Because of his fears, he becomes a loner, who is unable to enjoy the talk of his comrades. He grows morose and depressed. When he is sent to the front, he sees men running in the confusion of battle, and he begins to run himself. He finds himself in a forest where he tries to recover from his fear and anxiety. He emerges and stumbles upon a procession of wounded soldiers.
He joins them and sees one man from his regiment die on the road. Another wounded man begins to show the signs of dying, and the Youth runs from him too. He comes upon a regiment in retreat and tries to stop a soldier to ask him what is happening; the soldier hits him over the head with his rifle. The Youth finds his way back to his own regiment, and his comrades assume he has been injured in battle. He feels an overwhelming sense of shame over having run.
The next day in battle, Henry fights harder than any of his comrades and even acts as a leader for them. Later in the day, he and his friend come upon a general holding a meeting with several officers. His commanding officer volunteers his regiment for a strategic mission to attack the enemy line. His commander calls his regiment "mule drivers." The general predicts that few of them will survive the operation.

The Youth and his friend fight bravely, encouraging their tired comrades in the heat of battle. The Youth comes to be the flag bearer. His regiment is partially successful. The men are insulted when a commander tells their lieutenant that they stopped short of success. Nevertheless, the men are proud of their fortitude in holding the enemy line. When his regiment fights another battle on the same day, they break the enemy's line and take four prisoners. The Youth reflects on his experiences and begins to forgive himself for his desertion. He realizes he is only a man, not a hero, and finds peace in that.

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