I am currently preparing an American literature survey course for future job materials, so I am on this 19th/20th century American fiction kick. I’ve never read The Red Badge of Courage, and I know it’s a staple of American fiction. So, I decided I would need to read it.
. . .
What do I do with this book? I don’t know. Someone tell me. There are parts I liked, and parts I *hated* with fire. Let me try to work this out:
Henry Fleming is a young man (like 18ish, maybe younger?) who decides to enlist in the Civil War, despite his mother’s pleas not to. He wants to fight in the glorious cause, etc. You know those reasons people cite. Of course, it’s not all it’s cracked up to be, and he runs away during a battle when he thinks his unit is being defeated by the Confederates. After he runs away, he finds out differently, of course, and through various interventions, makes it back to his unit okay, and ultimately becomes the flag-bearer.
It’s hard to tell whether Stephen Crane is being serious or ironic. I want to say it’s the latter. But if so, then some of the writing about nature got a little distracting. I don’t know.
I liked the ideas he was working with, but the protagonist’s inner monologue got in the way for me (and I do not say that often!). It felt like a philosophical monologue jammed into an ironic treatise opposing war. There were moments where they worked well together, and moments where they simply DID NOT.
In short: I will teach this book, since I think it contrasts the Transcendentalists’ idealism regarding nature and self-reliance while also looking at realism and naturalism in interesting ways. But there may be some teacherly hand-wringing (spoiler: my poor students will have to expect the same when we read Twain. Good grief!).