In his novel The Red Badge of Courage, Stephen Crane tries to bring forth the reality of war by tracing the experiences of a soldier in the American Civil War. The young soldier (Henry Fleming) considered war as an exciting and romantic endeavor that is full of heroism and glory. Crane expresses the real picture of war by counterpointing the romantic expectations of Fleming with the reality that he came across. The contrasting of the two views is evident from the beginning of the novel as indicated the excitement of Fleming for having enlisted in the army and negative send-off he received from his mother (Crane 709-710).
The contrast is also shown by how Fleming was treated with honor in town before going into battle. His treatment increased his romantic expectation as his peers admired his heroic treatment. Fleming’s regiment was also treated very well on their way to Washington, making him believe that he was a hero “with the strength to do mighty deeds of arms” (Crane 711). Instead of being a hero automatically, as he expected, Fleming started experiencing some fear, and he was uncertain whether he will be able to withstand battle (Crane 712-718).
The contrast is most striking in the scenes of battle and death. Fleming is envious of the soldiers who were wounded in the battle and desires to have his “red badge of courage” (Crane, 739). He believed that the wounded were heroes, and they have performed marvelous deeds, which make them attain glory. However, his experiences in the real battle made him realize that there was nothing like heroism (Crane 728). He realized he should not envy the wounded soldier after witnessing their wailing, groaning and cursing (Crane 737). He was also wounded and experiences the real horror of death as he witnessed the death of his friend Jim. With the many counterpointing views between cold reality and romantic vision of war, Crane has portrayed the true nature of war.
Crane, Stephen. “The red badge of courage.” McMichael, George L, James S Leonard and Shelley Fisher Fishkin. Anthology of American literature. 10th. Vol. II. London: Longman, 2010. 707-787. Print.