The Red Badge of Courage | Study Guide

Stephen Crane

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The Red Badge of Courage | Discussion Questions 21 - 30


In Chapter 15 of The Red Badge of Courage, why does Henry Fleming's possession of Wilson's letters make him feel superior to Wilson?

Henry remembers he has his friend Wilson's packet of letters, which Wilson gave him when Wilson expected to be killed. Henry wants to use Wilson's letters as "a small weapon" in case Wilson questions how Henry disappeared during the previous day's fight. Although Henry runs from battle, and Wilson stands and fights with their regiment, Henry considers Wilson's letters to be proof of Wilson's fearfulness. Henry feels superior because no one has proof of his fleeing the fight. Now that he has a head wound that has passed his comrades' inspection, he embraces his alleged courage and feels untouchable. Henry observes to himself that unlike Wilson he "had performed his mistakes in the dark, so he was still a man." Thus, Henry's sense of self-importance and rationalization continue to mask his self-doubts and insincerities.

In Chapter 12 of The Red Badge of Courage, what two events of situational irony lead Henry to rejoin his original regiment?

The first ironic event occurs after Henry abandons the tattered soldier and is suddenly surrounded by panicking soldiers fleeing from battle. He clutches one of them, stammering, "Why—why—?" The man screams at him and smashes Henry's head with his rifle butt, giving Henry a serious head wound. The situational irony is that not only does Henry's wound come from a Union soldier rather than an enemy soldier, but also that Henry's "red badge of courage" results from a question, not from courageous fighting in battle. In the second example of situational irony the cheerful soldier who rescues Henry steers him into another potentially risky place for Henry: Henry's own regiment, where Henry fears his fellow comrades will know he ran from battle and then ridicule him.

In Chapter 12 of The Red Badge of Courage, who is the mysterious cheerful soldier who guides the injured Henry back to his original regiment?

When bludgeoned by a fleeing Union soldier, Henry sees "the flaming wings of lightning flash" and hears "the deafening rumble of thunder." He struggles to stay conscious. He struggles to his feet and staggers away. Day darkens to night alive with voices. He thinks about his mother. His head swollen, he seeks a sanctuary. A cheerful voice offers to help and takes him by the arm. The "man of the cheery voice" tells friendly tales while "threading the mazes of the tangled forest with a strange fortune" as if possessing "a wand of the magic kind." He points to a campfire and tells the youth, "Well, there's where your reg'ment is." The man whistles as he strides away, and it occurs to Henry "that he had not once seen his face." Crane intends the cheerful soldier to be a guide, but the detail that Henry never sees his face adds an element of intrigue, while the phrases "strange fortune" and "a wand of the magic kind" suggest something more, perhaps even supernatural, allowing the reader to speculate it was a spiritual guide or even the ghost of Jim Conklin.

In Chapters 13 and 14 of The Red Badge of Courage, why does the "loud soldier" become "the friend," while Henry remains "the youth"?

In Chapter 13 Henry makes up a story about being shot in the head and separated from the regiment. Thus, Crane refers to Henry as "the youth" since his only real battles are his own fears, insecurities, vanity, and flight. He is only beginning his path to maturity. In contrast Wilson cares for Henry in Chapter 13, providing him with a blanket and coffee and bandaging his head wounds. In Chapter 14 Wilson continues to care for Henry, adjusting his bandage and suggesting food. Wilson and Henry have a serious discussion about Jim Conklin's death and about an upcoming battle, whereas in the past, Wilson would argue, brag, and become irritated easily. Now, Henry watches Wilson break up a fight among the regiment's soldiers and realizes Wilson has matured in the fire of battle; he is no longer the "the loud soldier," but "the friend" who has a quiet resolve. Meanwhile, Henry is still "the youth" at the end of Chapter 14 as Henry thinks his regiment's having been scattered means many of them had run from battle also. He continues to rationalize his flight, and "he felt his self-respect growing strong within him."

In Chapter 16 of The Red Badge of Courage, what is the situational irony in Henry Fleming's complaints about his army's leadership?

In The Red Badge of Courage, Henry Fleming has participated fully in only a single skirmish, fled from a second one, and watched a battle from the safety of a nearby hill. As his regiment marches to relieve a command, Henry has no knowledge of the battle he and his comrades are about to engage in. However, the soldiers hear rumors of Union losses. Henry bitterly complains about the generals, "We're always being chased around like rats! It makes me sick. Nobody seems to know where we go or why we go." His criticism carries some situational irony given Henry's own confusion and his lack of battle knowledge, military experience, or officer training. That Henry thinks his understanding of war is greater than the generals is at odds with reality. However, when Lieutenant Hasbrouck orders, "You boys shut right up! You've been jawin' like a lot a ol' hens," Hasbrouck recognizes that the more the soldiers wait for an upcoming battle, the more they worry and grumble.

In Chapter 17 of The Red Badge of Courage, how does the animal imagery compare and contrast to Henry Fleming's state of mind in Chapters 2, 3, and 7?

Henry fights fiercely in his first battle when he views the troops as animals. When he runs from his second skirmish, he throws a rock at a squirrel and uses its scurrying from danger to rationalize his own response as reasonable according to the laws of nature. When he re-engages in battle with his brigade, he turns to nature again, pledging he won't be "like a kitten chased by boys." Instead, he will "develop teeth and claws." He sets his teeth in a "cur-like snarl" as the enemy advances and pictures them as "flies sucking insolently at his blood." Henry loses all sense of himself as he sweeps into action as one with his brigade, "pushing fierce onslaughts of creatures who were slippery." As his regiment drives forward, he feels "the fighters were like animals tossed for a death-struggle into a dark pit." Finally, Henry charges again as the Confederate forces begin to retreat, "like a dog who seeing his foes lagging, turns and insists upon being pursued." He has become so involved he is not even aware that the shooting has stopped.

In Chapter 18 of The Red Badge of Courage, how does Henry Fleming's overhearing of an officer describing his regiment as "mule drivers" become a turning point in the story?

In Chapter 18 Henry Fleming and Wilson are fetching water from a stream for an injured comrade when they overhear a colonel and other officers discussing which troops can be spared to lead an offense against the Confederate forces. Henry and Wilson are astonished to hear the soldiers in their regiment called "mule-drivers," meaning that rather than being polished veterans, they are disorganized, disorderly novices. Henry felt confident, superior even, after participating successfully in two skirmishes at this point. Now, however, he is confronted by the reality that he is insignificant in the context of a large war. His fierce regiment is insignificant. The offense will be one small battle in a much larger war with his regiments being like "a broom" needed to sweep the woods. Still, he and Wilson are resigned to do their best. For the first time Henry consciously makes a decision that he is ready to accept his role as a soldier. He will do his duty, which requires self-sacrifice. He will fight hard even though the general states, "I don't believe many of your mule-drivers will get back."

In Chapter 19 of The Red Badge of Courage, how does Crane use figurative language to create vivid scenes of combat?

Crane's language is simple, direct, and descriptive. Crane does not romanticize battle, nor does he conceal its primitive violence. He illuminates the insignificance of individual soldiers in the middle of an overwhelming war. Crane uses personification ("the song of the bullets was in the air," "he fired an angry shot"); metaphors ("shells snarled among the tree-tops"); and similes ("the line fell slowly forward like a toppling wall"). The figurative language portrays graphic and powerful scenes of combat as seen through Henry's eyes. The effect is both dramatic and poetic. Guns aren't merely fired, but "little flames of rifles leaped." Shells don't simply fall into a group, but "tumbled directly into the middle of a hurrying group and exploded in crimson fury." Soldiers don't just get shot, but were "punched by bullets," and they don't just hit the ground, but "fell in grotesque agonies." The effect is a faithful dramatization of the horrors that soldiers face in combat.

In Chapters 19 and 20 of The Red Badge of Courage, what is the significance of the Union flag to Henry's motivation and actions?

Henry fixes on the Union flag waving before him during his regiment's offense. Bullets flying, Henry follows the flag as the scene around him becomes a blur. His regiment starts to scatter and when the color sergeant is shot dead, Henry and Wilson grab the flag. Henry then leads the charge back into battle, carrying the flag and pushing his comrades forward. Henry has reached a critical crossroad and made a decisive change as he realizes for the first time what he's really fighting for. He understands the flag is a symbol for the Union's hopes and dreams for their country. For Henry the flag is "a creation of beauty and invulnerability," and he is fighting to save the Union.

In Chapters 17–19 of The Red Badge of Courage, what is the purpose of Crane's use of color imagery in depicting battle scenes?

In Chapters 17 through 19 Crane's color imagery brings combat to life with visual realism. It engages readers to mentally picture Henry Fleming's surroundings. Red is a recurring symbol of Henry's view of battle. He sees a window of a house near the battlefield "glowing with a deep, murder-red." Rifles being fired release "beams of crimson fire." Cannon fire explodes "in crimson fury." Henry also observes "a row of guns making grey clouds, which were filled with large flashes of orange-colored flames." He views the troops as a "blue smoke-swallowed line curled and writhed like a snake stepped upon." Rifle fires also have "yellow flames" and "yellow tongues." Even sounds have color, as when Lieutenant Hasbrouck, yelling at his troops to cross the clearing, unleashes "a blue haze of curses." Color imagery heightens war's assault on the senses—an assault Henry experiences in battle.

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