The Red Badge of Courage (1895)
Author: Stephen Crane
Plot Summary :
This classic work of a young boy's experience in battle during the Civil War relates all the horrors of battle, and the feelings that would accompany them. Realistically told, we follow the experiences of Henry Fleming from the security of his farm home, to the heat of battle. Initially he has very romantic notions of war, and enlists over the protestations of his mother. He proudly wears his new uniform, and is elated by the reception he gets from town's folks and others on his way to the "war". It does not take long, though, before he is frightened and appalled at what war is actually like. He quickly feels that he has been tricked into enlisting, and actually runs away after his second day of real fighting. His feelings run from intense wishes to escape, and shame that he is abandoning his comrades. He returns, and is met with numerous bloody deaths of his friends and strangers. He is alternately compassionate, and distainful of the suffering around him. Henry is ultimately "seasoned" by the battle, and by the end of the book is celebrated as a hero. He becomes a "man".
Geographical Setting: unspecified in the book, but probably Virginia.
Time Period: U.S. Civil War (1861-1865)
Realistic and graphic descriptions of Civil War battles, and young Union soldiers. Psychological as well as "factual" impressions of war,friendships and loss. Good historical value - probably a relatively good assessment of the Battle of Chancellorsville. This book is also one of America's classic literary works.
Read-alikes: Depending upon whether the read-alike searchers are looking for other classic American fiction, or whether they are looking for similar Civil War fiction, there would be different suggestions. Assuming the reader wants Civil War fiction, the following books might be good ones: The Black Flower:a Novel of the Civil War, by Howard Bahr is similar in theme and tone, but written from a Confederate soldier's point of view - describes three days of battle, with all the heroics and cowardice described in Red Badge of Courage; another book describing the intensity of a short battle, with all the good and bad aspects of the fighting men is Bright Starry Banner by Alden R.Carter; it deals with the Battle of Stone River, Tenn. in 1862; Woe to Live On, by Daniel Woodrell chronicles the experiences of a young man in a situation of extreme violence in his troupe, and his effeorts to get away; Long Remember by MacKinlay Kantor, has been described as the first realistic novel of the Civil War; the Battle of Gettysburg is described from the viewpoint of a pacifist who comes to believe in the righteousness of the war, and puts aside his pacifist beliefs to fight. All these suggested titles involve young men with conflicting feelings about war, and the horrors that in fact war does involve. There are many fiction titles which feature the Civil War, but the ones listed here are the closest in subject and characters to Red BAdge of Courage. A bit different, but still dealing with individuals' reactions to the horrors of the Civil War would be Sherman's March by Cynthia Bass, who tells the stories of three different people profoundly affected by the fighting - two soliers, and a refugee widow.
Red Flags: Very gruesome depictions of war, death, and suffering.