Saturday, September 29, 2012

The Red Badge of Courage by Stephen Crane

Why I read it: The Civil War was my first historical fascination as a kid.

Summary: The fictitious tale of one young man's battlefield experiences with the Union Army in the American Civil War.

My Thoughts: You can search the world's history over and over, but nothing you will find in the military history genre reads like an authentic telling of Civil War combat action. I wonder, though, if, say English Civil War stories, though they were compiled two centuries earlier, might have some of the flavor, driven, I think, by the familiarity between the warring sides.

I daresay Crane did a good job of baffling us with the question of hero or antihero. As for our protagonist, he's caught. He's caught up in the fire of youth and the desire to prove his manhood, caught unaware by his mother's reaction to his enlistment. He's caught in a swirl of his own self-hatred and shame, his distrust of his commanding officers, and in a blind rage that turns him from object of derision to object of inspiration. He goes from shameful skedaddling to lurching boldly across the battlefield with the colors, and somehow survives to fight another day.

The Red Badge of Courage reminds us of the randomness of war, and the fact that one can never use logic to determine why this one died, that one lived. Young Henry made it through this one day, but did he survive the next?

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