Posted by: Jacqui Murray | January 31, 2011

Book Review: Red Badge of Courage

The Red Badge of CourageThe Red Badge of Courage

by Stephen Crane

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I have no idea how this book can average 3/5 on Goodreads and 3.5/5 on Amazon. The Red Badge of Courage is one of many books that address fear in the face of death. Henry, a brand new and young soldier in the Civil War, doesn’t know how he will react to battle. When his regiment charges the enemy, Henry defects. He is ashamed, but through a variety of circumstances and enormous personal growth (we love this in our novels) becomes a hero among the soldiers of his regiment.

This book made popular the term ‘red badge of courage’ as it applies to an injury received in battle. It is recommended for all new Marine recruits because it examines how first-time soldiers, most who have never shot a rifle at another man much less killed someone, would feel thrown into battle. The main character, Henry, likely reacts as many of us would and many did, so most readers relate to his series of events.

Though published in 1895, this book remains an icon of American literature. It is a standard allusion in other writing (akin to ‘waiting for Godot’). To be considered educated, adults must read this book to fully understand other writing they’ll face. Not only the allusion to ‘red badge of courage’, but the need of warriors to appear brave in the face of battle, to claim courage as a means of bolstering their reputation and personal identity. We see it often in political figures. I can think of two (I’ll leave them unnamed, but you know who I mean) whose prowess in battle is questionable though they claimed the mantle of hero. It’s safe to say that mankind’s roots remained entangled with our battles, our courage, and our ability to be damaged and survive.

I guess relevancy to people dropped their rating. If we can’t relate to mind-numbing fear and how we would move forward under its influence, I suppose it would be considered ‘boring’ or ‘irrelevant’. To men, even if I may never face a circumstance where I must do the right thing even when every nerve in my body wants me to do something else, I think this book is important to read. How else would I understand the allusions to it in news articles and conversation?

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