“The Red Badge of Courage”: An Anti-War Novel
Throughout history, literature has glorified war as a romantic event, where men won honor through acts of heroism. Many novels have been written to this effect. What is war, really, though? The one fact that people seem to forget is that no matter how just or righteous a cause is, war only produces death and destruction. Most war literature is about generals winning their glorious campaigns. Not often is the story told from the viewpoint of the common soldier who is fighting and dying. Few books show this side of war, the ugly side. One book, “The Red Badge of Courage” by Stephen Crane, depicts this side in an astonishing fashion that reveals to a reader the true chaos and terror of war. Crane tells this story from the viewpoint of one ignorant soldier, a new recruit named Henry Fleming. Throughout the story, the reader witnesses Henry’s maturation. “War forces young men to grow up quickly. Henry does some growing up. After having been tested by combat, he is better able to see the hard realities of war. His romantic, glorified dreams of battle have been shattered” (Huff 5). The objective of the story is the same: to shatter the romantic ideals about war found in literature, in the same way that Henry’s ideals were changed. Crane’s use of imagery, impressionism, and realism presents a startling picture of war that in effect makes the story an example of anti-war literature.
Imagery is an important part of Crane’s novel. The images that he conjures immediately show that he is not writing from the romantic point of view about war. His various images show war as it appears to Henry. This imagery has a strong tie to Crane’s impressionistic style. At one point, Crane describes war as “the red animal, war, the blood-swollen god” (Crane 73). This one image makes Crane point of being anti-war at once obvious. Impressionism is unique form of writing that is hard to recognize in literature. Impressionism can be described as “the way things strike one, but also [as] the way things are” (Berryman 95). Crane uses this style to great effect. “Through [Henry’s] eyes, Crane sees and paints a word picture of war; it is an interpretation rather than a historical account, an impressionistic portrait rather than a photograph” ( Cummings 5). Crane shows Henry’s experiences in a fragmented way. These images mean absolutely nothing individually but as a whole blend together to give a reader a complete picture that shows war in its destructive entirety. “Crane dwells on the subjective reality of [Henry’s] reactions to the scenes around him” ( Cummings 5 ). Using this style Crane can reveal many truths about war that could not be revealed any other way. “With minimal but exact detail, in an aura of psychological, not objective, reality, the experience is precisely, forcefully communicated. The method is more poetic than traditionally novelistic…It is Crane’s impressionism of texture” (Cady 136) “[By] limit[ing] the novel’s point of view and fragment[ing] its narrative[, Crane] focus[es] the impact of each of his ‘battle pictures’ and make[s] us see the truth of his descriptions” ( The Red Badge of Courage: Critical Reception 4). When this style is coupled with his style of realism, it forms into a perfect picture of war as a completely destructive force of death and nothing else. Reality from the viewpoint of the common soldier is a concept that is not shown often in war literature. A reader is either shown generals running campaigns or an overview of battle. What the battle is like for the men fighting is rarely shown. Crane’s use of realism shows a reader what battle...