Thursday, November 14, 2013

Thorsday Book Review: The Red Badge of Courage

This is not a book for which I would normally go looking.  However, it was this year's selection for "Scranton Reads," a program which is designed to get all of us in and around Scranton to read the same book and have a dialog about it.  (Thought of the day: why are we only to read one book a year?  Is this city on the whole considered too illiterate to complete two books?  Ah, life's unending mysteries...)

The Red Badge of Courage was written by Stephen Crane, who was not even born until 5 years after the Civil War ended.  For that alone, it's considered remarkable.

THE RED BADGE OF COURAGE
by Stephen Crane

This is not a book about a specific person, or about a specific battle.  Our protagonist isn't even given a name, age or home, save during his musings back to when he quit seminary school (indicating probably about 18 years old, and from the Northeast), and bade farewell to his mother, who called him Henry.  We meet "the youth", as he's called throughout, while he's waiting to be sent to battle for the first time.  The youth must have been a Northern soldier, and the battle must have been in Virginia; other than that, this book is more generic with regard to events, and about emotions, changes in soldiers, and their reactions to events.

Halfway through this book:  "The youth took note of a remarkable change in his comrade since those days of camp life upon the river bank.  He seemed no more to be continually regarding the proportions of his personal prowess.  He was not furious at small words that pricked his conceits. He was no more a loud young soldier.  There was about him now a fine reliance...."

Toward the end of the battle:  "...The lieutenant, also, was unscathed in his position at the rear.  He had continued to curse, but it was not with the air of a man who was using his last box of oaths..."

At the end of the book:  "A specter of reproach came to him.  There loomed the dogging memory of the tattered soldier - he who, gored by bullets and faint for blood, had fretted concerning an imagined wound in another; he who had loaned his last of strength and intellect for the tall soldier; he who, blind with weariness and pain, had been deserted in the field..."

Stephen Crane's book has endured not because it was a history, but rather because it's a reflection of the human condition during adverse times.  He never went to war, and must have gleaned these private thoughts and emotions from the stories of his elders.  This book was written when he was 25, and he died of tuberculosis before he was 30.  The Red Badge of Courage is a rather slow read, because it causes the reader to stop and contemplate, but it is worthwhile.  (Incidentally, "the red badge of courage" is a bloody bandage from a battle wound, which soldiers considered to be an honor.)  4/5

(This picture hangs in my family room.)

Happy Thorsday, everyone!

6 comments:

Dexter said...

I am also puzzled at the one book per year limit.

I read that book in English class back in Jr. High. Haven't read it since, but it seems like one of those books you get something different out of every time.

Mango Momma

Pam said...

I've heard of this book but have never read it. It sounds like a good thought provoking read.

Food, Fun and Life in the Charente said...

Interesting by the sound of it. Have a good weekend Diane

altadenahiker said...

I have a copy of this book. I found it a couple of months ago, on a walk, in a box by a trashcan. RBC must have been required reading in HS, but I suppose I Cliffs Notes'd my way out of it. Anyway, I opened the book and read the first few paragraphs, and you're so right. It is beautifully written.

Sue said...

I never read it though I think I was supposed to back in jr high.

Only one book a year. I think you're several years ahead of the game.

SissySees said...

Like Mango Momma, I read it long ago, and have thought about re-reading it since...