The Red Badge of Courage

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The Red Badge of Courage Study Guide

Welcome to the LitCharts study guide on Stephen Crane's The Red Badge of Courage. Created by the original team behind SparkNotes, LitCharts are the world's best literature guides.

Brief Biography of Stephen Crane

Stephen Crane was born into a large family of a Methodist minister. Crane attended a quasi-military prep school and a handful of unsuccessful years at college, but left school seeking real-world experiences as an adventurer and writer. Crane wrote poetry, short stories, and several novels, all of which earned him acclaim for his innovative literary style and probing social and psychological analysis. Crane also travelled extensively as a foreign correspondent for newspapers, covering subjects including poverty and war. Travel and hard-living took their toll and Crane died young, at 28, of tuberculosis.
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Historical Context of The Red Badge of Courage

Crane was born six years after the Civil War (1861 - 1865) but the intensity of the war still resonated in American culture when he wrote the novel. With over 600,000 men killed, the violence of the Civil War was unprecedented. Unlike his contemporaries writing about the war, Crane doesn't examine the large-scale political conflicts between the Union and Confederate sides. Instead, Crane follows the very limited viewpoints of infantrymen in a fictitious Union regiment: the 304th New York State Volunteers. Historians interpret the setting of Red Badge as the Battle of Chancellorsville in northern Virginia. It was a turning point: the last victory of Confederate General Robert E. Lee and the battle just before the horrors of Gettysburg.

Other Books Related to The Red Badge of Courage

Crane was a pioneer of American literary Naturalism. First apparent in his novel about a prostitute titled Maggie: A Girl of the Streets, Crane created art from how individuals dealt with the stresses of modern life, including urbanization, industrialism, and religious doubt. He detailed stark social circumstances without any varnish of sentimentality. Crane also changed the focus of literary description from outward events to the internal workings of a character's psychology. Crane probes intense personal doubts about religion, nature, and meaning itself. Other American naturalist landmarks in the 1890s include An American Tragedy by Theodore Dreiser, and The Call of the Wild by Jack London.
Key Facts about The Red Badge of Courage
  • Full Title: The Red Badge of Courage: An Episode of the American Civil War
  • When Written: 1893
  • Where Written: New York City
  • When Published: 1895
  • Literary Period: Naturalism
  • Genre: Short novel or novella
  • Setting: A Civil War battlefield, probably a fictionalization of the Battle of Chancellorsville, fought May 2–5, 1863, in northern Virginia
  • Climax: Henry and his friend Wilson lead the charge to overwhelm an enemy position, taking the enemy flag and several prisoners.
  • Point of View: Third-person limited omniscient

Extra Credit for The Red Badge of Courage

Nameless characters: Crane's narrator never uses proper names of characters, such as "Henry" or "Wilson." The narrator only uses general names such as "the youth," "the loud young soldier," and "the tattered man." The reader learns the characters' names only through the speech of others.

Color of battle: The narrator also never says "Union" or "Confederate." Soldiers are described as enemies, or as part of lines and masses only distinguished by their flags or by uniform color: blue and gray. This technique places the focus on the small concerns of the soldiers rather than on the larger political and military goals of the armies.