Short Classics Project – Book Review: The Red Badge of Courage

Author: Stephen Crane

Rating: 3/5 stars

Book Blurb: This classic novel of the American Civil War evokes the horrors of battle and the psychology of fear as it recounts the experience of a young, untried Union Army volunteer. Henry Fleming longs to prove himself by winning the “red badge beyond all doubt”. But when he finally does come under fire, he learns the grim truth about war’s “glory” and the real meaning of bravery.

This was intense.

When I researched the book for the short classics project I am doing, the review that stuck out to me the most was: “This book is about a coward.” The review was written by a veteran. My grandfather and father- in- law are veterans, but both have since passed away. After I finished the book, I wondered what their opinions would have been…

Henry, who seems to be very young, is our protagonist. He spends the first portion of the book fantasizing about war … then once he is away from home, wondering if he will run when the fighting starts. The next portion he spends asking his fellow soldiers if they think they will run when the fighting starts and then judging the ones that say they won’t. I’ll give you two guesses as to what Henry does when the fighting actually starts.

The book progresses and Henry comes around, or is hardened, or grows up- however you want to interpret it. This was a realistic, graphic view of battle. I was blown away by the fact that it was written in 1895. It was an uncomfortable read, but I’m glad to have read it.

2 responses to “Short Classics Project – Book Review: The Red Badge of Courage”

  1. I found this very uncomfortable too. I was hoping he would overcome his internal fears and not allow them to dictate his outer actions at the outset of the story.

    After this story, I never bothered looking to see if Crane had written anything else. Do you think you’ll investigate him any further?

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    1. oh yes! I am ordering The Open Boat and Other Stories by him. I read that though he gets acclaim for Red Badge of Courage – that the Open Boat is his best work, as that is something he actually experienced. Also Maggie: A Girl of the Streets is included in that collection as well – I had heard of that one, but never had bothered to read it. I admit I’m really looking forward to The Open Boat.
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