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Red Badge of Courage

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Death, Blood and Destruction

The Red Badge of Courage, a Civil War novel by Stephen Crane, may be examined on various levels. One of those levels is a story about the cruelty and disasters of war. Young Henry Flemming, the protagonist, has dreamed his whole life of being in the army and despite his mother's discouragement, he enlists with a Union regiment. Soon learning that the army is a big bore, Henry begins to view himself "merely as a part of a vast blue demonstration". Clearly, Henry does not know why he is going to fight, he just knows that he is part of a large group of men.

As the novel unfolds, it is plain that Crane is writing about the horrors and tragedies of war, even by using the idea of contrasting the events of the war with nature. Although many critics have viewed the book as a naturalistic or realistic novel, some specific examples can describe how it relates to the anti-war theme.

As Henry is on guard duty one evening, he converses across the river with a Confederate soldier. "The youth liked him personally," says Crane. Henry's feeling towards his enemy shows that he is unclear about the war's purpose. At this point Henry probably would like to flee home. Henry is seeing the enemy as real and humane. He then describes how he feels shame about the war. Henry definitely knows that the war is wrong and that the people that have died and the soldiers that have been shot are no different than him. Crane uses the fact that Henry understands how similar he is to the enemy in relating his anti-war theme.

Crane also uses the contrast of nature with war to show his anti-war theme. At the end of his regiment's first battle, Henry is waiting quietly with the men. As the shooting ceases, Henry looks about him into the beauty of nature. "As he gazed around him the youth felt a flash of astonishment at the blue pure sky and the sun gleaming on the trees and fields. It was surprising that Nature had gone tranquilly on with her golden process in the midst of so much devilment." Crane is contrasting the terror of war to the beauty of nature. He is depicting how nature is so perfect and that although the ugliness of war continues, nature keeps its splendor. Another example of how Crane contrasts nature and war can be seen when Henry is in the woods after he has cowardly run away from a battle. "The trees began softly to sing a hymn of twilight...there was silence save for the chanted chorus of the trees. Then, upon this stillness, there suddenly broke a tremendous clangor of sounds." The terrible sounds of war have broken through the serene scene that lay before Henry. He is so absorbed in the beauty of nature that he forgets the war for a moment. A final example of how nature is contrasted with war is amidst the confusion of one battle. Through the dark musket smoke, Crane still relates nature. "A cloud of dark smoke, as from smoldering ruins, went up toward the sun, now bright and gay in the blue, enameled sky." Through these examples of nature contrasted with war, Crane relates the anti-war theme. To take a moment to examine the beauty of nature in the middle of death and blood, Crane is showing how the distorted war causes Henry to have to look past it to the sublime objects that surround him. Henry is trying to see beyond all the despair the wonders



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