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The Red Badge of Courage | Discussion Questions 31 - 40

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In The Red Badge of Courage, how does Crane use personification to describe Henry's relationship to the war?

Henry's thoughts and observations often personify an object or action, describing the subject in humanlike terms. In Chapter 1 in the soldiers' hut, "smoke from the fire at times neglected the chimney," suggesting smoke can make decisions about where to drift and make "endless threats to set ablaze the whole establishment." The implication is Henry and his comrades have no real control over their environment. In Chapter 16 the sounds of war are depicted in human terms. Henry hears the "voices" of cannon entering the "dispute." The guns "were roaring without an instant's pause for breath." Thus, the war itself is like a person attacking the soldiers. In Chapter 18 while preparing for battle, "the regiment seemed to draw itself up and heave a deep breath"; Crane describes the army regiment as acting as a single unit rather than as individuals. This personification is a continuation of the one Crane used in Chapter 1 when he describes the same regiment as "stretched out on the hills, resting," then awakening and trembling with eagerness. So in combat groups fight groups rather than individuals fighting individuals. During the battle in Chapter 19 Henry finds his courage as he follows his regimental flag, a "goddess, radiant, that bended its form with an imperious gesture to him. It was a woman, ... hating and loving, that called him with the voice of his hopes." This use of personification not only creates emotional images; it also provides insight into how Henry views the war in relation to himself.

In Chapter 20 of The Red Badge of Courage, how does Crane use the smoke of the battle to establish the mood of combat?

Until Chapter 20 Crane has been portraying precise details of combat through Henry Fleming's eyes, giving readers a vivid mental picture of the fighting. However, in Chapter 20 Crane uses the smoke of the battle for a more impressionistic effect to show the messiness and confusion of war. "The smoke fringes and flames blustered always," though the smoke lifts briefly, and the Union soldiers can see "a brown mass" of Confederate soldiers facing them. More smoke clouds rise from the blazing rifles, and "in the clouded haze men became panic-stricken with the thought that the regiment had lost its path, and was proceeding in a perilous direction." The smoke of the battleground becomes so heavy that Henry's regiment becomes confused and doesn't know which direction to fire. The soldiers falter in the haze. The mood among the troops becomes one of a hysterical fear of doom. When the smoke briefly lifts again, Henry realizes the "haze of treachery" has masked how close the enemy is. Another fierce fight produces more haze until the soldiers can "see only dark, floating smoke." Not until "the pestering blur ... began to coil heavily away" do they realize the Confederate troops have retreated, and Henry's regiment has won the skirmish. Thus, the use of the smoke shows the excitement and fear, uncertainty and disorder of the war from Henry's perspective.

In Chapters 20 and 21 of The Red Badge of Courage, how does Crane portray Henry Fleming's growing maturity?

In Chapters 20 and 21 Crane focuses more on Henry Fleming's character development than on precise details of the combat. By this point Henry is becoming truly battle-tested: his fighting has revealed the reality of war, replacing his romantic ideas from classic literature. In Chapter 20 Henry not only does not run from combat, but also he digs in to fight the Confederate troops, considering retreat to be "a march of shame." Insisting on still carrying the flag, he joins Lieutenant Hasbrouck in encouraging his comrades to continue to fight, realizing "a subtle fellowship and equality" with his lieutenant. Thus, Henry has moved from giving into his fear and running from a fight to finding his courage and showing leadership skills. He further shows his maturity in the aftermath of the skirmish when he hears the general and colonel criticize the regiment for having stopped 100 feet too short. Henry reverses his previous behavior by reacting with a "tranquil philosophy for these moments of irritation." In another reversal Henry comforts Wilson, saying, "Well, we both did good." Finally, Henry no longer views Wilson as a competitor and is happy to share the spotlight with Wilson when they are both credited for having led the charging, and sharing with Wilson, "a secret glance of joy and congratulations."

In Chapter 21 of The Red Badge of Courage, how does Crane portray the lieutenant's relationship to his regiment?

In Chapter 21 Henry's regiment returns to overhear criticism from the colonel that the group had stopped 100 feet short of success. But, Lieutenant Hasbrouck reacts with rage, "I don't care what a man is—whether he is a general, or what—if he says th' boys didn't put up a good fight out there he's a damned fool." He knows the soldiers could hear the colonel disparage their efforts, and he supports them. He respects the valiant fighting of the men he commands, even though the colonel regards the soldiers as simply pawns who fight and die as part of a larger strategy. As a result, when other soldiers overhear the lieutenant praise Wilson and Henry, they are excited to share the praise. Although the soldiers, including Henry, have complained about the lieutenant in the past, they now realize he was just doing his job to discipline and lead them. Henry's growing sense of confidence and acceptance of the idea of duty is strongly reinforced when he learns the lieutenant has praised him for carrying the flag in battle. Further, the lieutenant has praised him and Wilson, saying they deserve to be major-generals. Knowing the lieutenant fights alongside his men, has taken a bullet, and is loyal to them, the regiment has a new respect for him.

In Chapter 22 of The Red Badge of Courage, how does Henry Fleming's role as a standard-bearer influence his perspective of combat?

In Chapter 22 Henry Fleming is now the official standard-bearer, and as a result, he becomes a spectator to the fighting. His eyes free from the gun smoke, Henry watches two long, fierce combats in the distance. He sees waves of blue and gray uniforms swarm toward each other, attempting to secure positions behind fences or trees. Removed from directly engaging in battle, Henry sees the battles through an officer's eyes. As he matures, Henry no longer sees monsters, animals, or even soldiers, as the enemy has appeared to him in the past. Rather, he observes the strategies of both the Confederate and Union troops as two long waves that "pitched upon each other madly at dictated points." Henry becomes even more absorbed when his own regiment joins the battle. Henry stands erect, not budging from his place as he sees his troops bleeding and bursting "in a barbaric cry of rage and pain" as they are hit with bullets. Henry perceives the weakening of his regiment.

In The Red Badge of Courage, how does the tone change between Chapters 20 and 22 in Crane's description of battle?

In Chapter 20 Henry Fleming is in the "fog of war," an expression created during Crane's time that describes the confusion caused by the chaos of war. In Chapter 22 Henry does not fight alongside his regiment because he is now the official flag bearer. Instead, Henry is an observer. His perceptions are not as jumbled as when he participates directly in the skirmish in Chapter 20. Henry watches the intense battle between his regiment and the Confederate soldiers with the tone of an objective reporter. Crane has returned to realistic and gruesome details of the violence. For example Crane describes a sergeant shot in his face with "his jaw hung afar down, disclosing in the wide cavern of his mouth a pulsing mass of blood and teeth."

What evidence from Chapter 23 of The Red Badge of Courage supports the claim that men become animalistic when fighting?

As the battle rages in Chapter 23, the men are described as "showing their teeth" and launching themselves "at the throats of those who stood resisting." Crane paints a picture of wild animals on the hunt for prey. When Henry Fleming is described, the image is of a "mad horse" with eyes rolling back in his head, determined to push forward. Further descriptions that indicate a descent into raw animal energy include a clash of "beaks and claws," Wilson acting as "a panther at prey," and the prisoners as "strange birds" trapped by the victors. There is also a desensitization to the large amounts of blood found on the battlefield, as though "much blood among the grass blades" is nothing unusual and perhaps even a good sign marking victory.

Although Crane does not state it directly, why is it likely Henry Fleming has admiration for the rival flag bearer in Chapter 23 of The Red Badge of Courage?

Henry's pride in his new status as the color bearer for his regiment is obvious. He views it as an extremely important job, as proof he has become a fine, courageous soldier—even a leader. So it is natural he would believe the color bearer of the enemy has a similar status to his. Onto that youth he can project his own pride and self-worth. When Crane describes the youth's face as showing "desperate purpose" and a "terrible grin of resolution" in the throes of death, he paints a picture of bravery and fierce loyalty Henry can't help but admire. Crane raises the youth's status even more by talking about the two flags as if the emblems are the most important part of the battle, able to wage their own war with each other, as mighty eagles.

How do the often-mentioned battle cries of soldiers in The Red Badge of Courage reflect what is known about actual Civil War battles?

Throughout history warriors have used war cries to rally themselves, gather their courage, and frighten their enemies. One of the most often discussed battle cries was used by Confederate soldiers during the Civil War and is known as the "rebel yell." It has been described as a bone-chilling screech, not unlike that of a banshee, and it was said to be quite effective—so much so that the most successful Confederate troops might be referred to as "good yelling regiments." By featuring lots of yelling in the battle scenes of The Red Badge of Courage, Crane is reflecting historical accuracy. Especially in Chapter 23, where Henry Fleming is said to be "shrieking mad calls" as he charges, Crane might have thought about how the other side would respond with fervor to the rebel yell.

What is the significance of the color references in Chapter 24 of The Red Badge of Courage?

In Chapter 24 Henry reviews his time as a soldier. As it has throughout the novel, red is the color of his violent memories of the war, but as he alters his memories to feature himself as something of a war hero, purple and gold replace red and crimson. These are colors that represent power, value, and confidence—not the pain and fear of red. As his shame over desertion fades further and further into the background, replaced by heroics, Henry's memories become more and more gilded. Finally, as the novel closes, readers are left with a warm image: "a golden ray of sun" shining through the clouds. Henry has "rid himself of the red sickness of battle."

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