red badge courage

The Red Badge of Courage

The Red Badge of Courage is a 1895 war novel by American author Stephen Crane. It is considered one of the most influential works in American literature. The novel, in which a young recruit in the American Civil War is faced by the cruelty of war, has made Crane an international success. Although he was born after the war and had not at the time experienced battle firsthand, the novel is considered an example of Realism.


By March 1893, Stephen Crane had already published his first novel, Maggie: A Girl of the Streets, at the age of 22. Maggie was not a success, both financially and critically; critics thought the unsentimental Bowery tale crude and Crane was forced to publish the work privately after it was initially rejected for publication.

Crane quickly found inspiration for his next novel, however, while spending hours lounging in a friend's studio and having his portrait painted. He became fascinated with issues of the Century that were largely devoted to famous battles and military leaders from the Civil War. Frustrated with the dryly written stories, Crane stated, "I wonder that some of those fellows don't tell how they felt in those scraps. They spout enough of what they did, but they're as emotionless as rocks. Crane returned to these magazines during subsequent visits to the studio, and eventually the idea of writing a war novel overtook him. He would later state that he "had been unconsciously working the detail of the story out through most of his boyhood" and had imagined "war stories ever since he was out of knickerbockers.

Plot summary

During an unnamed battle, 19-year-old private Henry Fleming survives what he considers to be a lost cause by escaping into the nearby forest, deserting his battalion. He joins a group of injured men. One of the group, the "Tattered Soldier", asks Henry, who is often referred to as "The Youth", where he is wounded. Henry, embarrassed that he does not have any wounds, wanders through the forest. He ultimately decides that running was the best thing, and that he is a small part of the army responsible for saving himself.

When he learns that his battalion had won the battle and that it was not a suicide mission after all, Henry feels incredibly guilty. As a result, he returns to his battalion and is injured when another fleeing soldier hits him on the head with the butt of his gun. When he returns to camp, the other soldiers believe that he was harmed by a bullet grazing him in battle. The next morning he goes into battle for the third time. While looking for a stream to attain water from, he discovers from the commanding officer that his regiment has a lackluster reputation. The officer speaks casually about sacrificing Henry's regiment because they are nothing more than "mule drivers" and "mud diggers". With no regiments to spare, the general orders his men forward. In the final battle, Henry becomes one of the best fighters in his battalion as well as the flag bearer, finally proving his courage as a man.


In some ways Crane's style is ornate, as has been noted above, with profuse use of color and rampant metaphor in a way which was rare for his time. The blues and grays of the two sides of the American Civil War are often described as natural phenomena, swirling like clouds. Fleming's Regiment "was a broken machine".

In dialog, however, the style is earthy, written out to sound as close to the vernacular of the day as possible. This realism was later to inform many works but was relatively rare at the time.


The book was adapted into a film of the same name by John Huston in 1951 starring Medal of Honor recipient Audie Murphy, and again in a made-for-television version starring Richard Thomas that appeared in 1974.

In 2005, Puffin Graphics released a comic-style version of the story, illustrated by Wayne Vansant.



  • Davis, Linda H. 1998. Badge of Courage: The Life of Stephan Crane. New York: Mifflin. ISBN 0899199348.
  • Linson, Corwin K. 1958. My Stephen Crane. Syracuse: Syracuse University Press.
  • Stallman, R. W. 1968. Stephen Crane: A Biography. New York: Braziller, Inc.

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