The Red Badge of Courage

The Psychology of War in The Red Badge of Courage

Stephen Crane’s The Red Badge of Courage, one of the most famous war novels of the 19th century, can also be analyzed outside of the trope of military literature and along a psychological route. Crane’s novel follows the journey of young soldier Henry Fleming and his struggle to grow from an immature vanity and intense egotism in the face of an uncaring and often brutal physical reality of war and nature as well as the inevitability of death that comes along with it. In this view, the theme of nature’s indifference to human lives and the impact it has on Crane’s character ultimately marks a psychological warfare in addition a physical one. Though the novel ends on an optimistic note that Henry has at last become a “changed man,” this paper seeks to argue that Henry’s change from naiveté and vanity to an alleged maturity, especially regarding death, is not a simple and thorough shift but instead subtle and largely incomplete. Therefore, though readers can decisively point to physical examples of Henry’s military victories and heroics by the end of the novel, his psychological battle cannot be concluded as concretely. Henry’s shift, then, is illustrated as a complicated process with no exact “endpoint”: though his newfound...

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