What, if anything, does the novel have to say about religion?
The novel does not say much explicitly about religion. Crane was raised in a religious household but rebelled against the strict rules and regulations levied by his parents. His work, however, often features biblical imagery and allusions. Henry seems to imbue Nature with a spiritual element, writing about the forest appearing as a cathedral and feeling a sense of profound peace and harmony within it. One striking sentence appears after Jim dies: "the red sun was pasted in the sky like a wafer" (52). Some critics have said this is a reference to the communion wafer, and that Jim Conklin is a Christ-like figure. His sacrificing of himself in battle is being commemorated in communion. Jim can be seen as "saving" Henry because his death facilitates Henry's passage into manhood and morality.
What are the genre, style, and tone of the novel?
The genre of the novel is realist, or naturalist. Crane provided realistic detail of warfare and focused on the psychology of one character, allowing the readers to experience the sights and sounds through one ordinary soldier's perspective. The prose is simple, the characters relatable. There is little veneer to the scenes of combat - they are visceral and violent. The style is impressionistic and subjective, using images and emotions to convey meaning. The events appear to the reader through the eyes of the protagonist, not in a highly vivid or precise manner but in the way they seem or feel to him. The drama is in the thought, not the action. The tone of the novel is ironic, meaning that the author is expressing his awareness of the contradiction between reality and appearance. Crane expresses some irony toward his protagonist, calling into question Henry's assumptions and positing that Henry's ideas about himself might not be at all true. Even the title leads to a moment of ironic comeuppance, as Henry's accidental "red badge of courage" belies his bravery.
How does Crane contrast Wilson and Henry?
At the outset of the novel both of the soldiers are new to combat and visibly possess traits that speak to their immaturity. Wilson is referred to as "the loud soldier" and Henry as "the youth". Wilson is boisterous and rather annoying, while Henry is quieter but, as the reader knows, filled with naïveté, shallowness, and anxiety. As the novel progresses, Wilson's transformation in battle turns him into a foil for Henry. The two young men diverge, with Wilson growing more mature and rational and Henry persisting in his callowness and cowardice. Even though the reader does not have access to Wilson's thoughts, it is clear that he has irrevocably changed. He is peaceful and wise and does not waste his time bragging. He breaks up fights among the men and refuses to engage in pettiness himself. Henry, however, has fled from battle and lied about the nature of his wound. He is still filled with fear and rage and cannot seem to attain that inner calm that Wilson has. While the reader is left absolutely certain that Wilson has grown up, the question of whether Henry truly has still looms at the close of the novel.
How does Crane use color in the novel?
It does not seem possible to find a novel that employs color metaphors as much as Crane's Red Badge of Courage. Indeed, it is too obvious to point out that the title itself uses the color red; red continually evokes the hellish horror of war (the red animal) throughout the novel. There are red eyes, red hazes, red monsters. Black is also used to create a sense of fear, as with eerie black silhouettes in the shape of snakes. As Henry's cowardice peaks, yellow light and fog pervade the scene. Some colors are used to suggest peace and placidity, as with the blue of the sky and the calm gold of daylight. Henry earns his "red badge of courage" and becomes a color-bearer later in the novel. It is not surprising that Crane used colors so much, for they are part of the novel's intense focus on the senses. Henry, through whom we experience war, experiences a barrage of sounds, sights, and smells. Bright colors enhance the sensory experience and create or mirror the protagonist's moods. This visual realism is a main indicator of Crane's role in the naturalist literary movement, as well as an indication of his poetic, impressionistic tendencies.
Why does Crane avoid using particulars of time and place?
Although it is clear that the novel takes place during the Civil War - specifically, as admitted by Crane after its publication, the 1863 Battle of Chancellorsville - the novel deliberately avoids use of particulars of time, place, and historical figures. Even the context of cause does not enter into the text; Henry's enlisting is motivated by glory and not political feeling. No famous generals are mentioned, nothing of Lincoln or the Union is alluded to, no other battles discussed, no mention of slavery. The Rebels are even described more by the color of their uniforms or in terms of being indistinct, hazy, savage, or monstrous than as foes with opposing ideals. The main characters are more often than not referred to by some informal identifier, such as "the youth" or "the tall soldier". Their names are not very important. Why would Crane do this? Simply put, he wanted to universalize the war experience. He wanted the story of one ordinary soldier's combat experience to ring true across multiple conflicts, multiple moments in history. He wanted to speak for many young soldiers who left their homes and undertook this adventure. Henry's inner conflict was more important to Crane vis a vis the human struggle than the specific nature of one battle or one war.
What is the significance of the four Rebel prisoners of war?
At the end of the novel the Union troops have captured four prisoners of war. Through Henry's eyes, Crane describes the soldiers. One is wrathful, one is calm and friendly, one is morose, and one is always silent. These men are significant for two reasons: one, they are real enemy soldiers in the flesh; and two, they are not so different from the Union soldiers. Regarding the first point, this is the first time Henry and his companions have face-to-face contact with the enemy. This is particularly important for Henry, who thus far has dehumanized the enemy by referring to them as a dragon or monster. He barely conceived of the soldiers he was fighting as individuals, and here he encounters them as real young men doing exactly what he is doing. This leads to the second point, which is that these young men are very similar to the Union soldiers. The loud cursing soldier is reminiscent of the lieutenant, the good-natured soldier sounds like Jim, the morose one sounds like Henry. It is a reminder to Henry (and the reader) that "the enemy" are real people, and that both sides have more in common than they think. As Crane removes any historical indicators or context from the novel, the significance of Henry's realization of their individuality speaks to the larger theme of humanity.
Why does Crane choose to write the novel in a third-person limited point of view?
Third-person limited means that while Henry is not the narrator of the novel, it is through his eyes that readers experience the events of the text. His is the only mind the reader has access to; none of the other characters are very real, and are only viewed within the context of Henry's experience. Henry's convoluted and ever-shifting assessments of the world around him complicate an otherwise straightforward narration. He is always thinking, rationalizing, debating, fretting, and ruminating. His mind jumps from thought to thought as he tries to process the events unfolding around him and what his own role is. Sometimes his thoughts are confusing and contradictory, much as an actual human being's thoughts are. This insight into his mind allows readers to really get to know the character, but this perspective poses a problem as well. If readers are only able to see Henry's thoughts and do not have the benefit of an outside, objective narrator to correct Henry's misconceptions or tell them the truth about the events going on, then the integrity of the narrator is compromised. The fact is, the reader has to be skeptical about Henry. He is self-centered and naive, and cannot be counted on to deliver the absolute truth. This makes the novel simultaneously frustrating and compelling.
What is Crane saying about a soldier's survival instinct?
Henry demonstrates both the ingrained survival instinct in all people, as well as a soldier's sense of duty to act beyond self-interest. Henry, wondering since the beginning if he would flee in battle, finds himself doing just that in the first fight with the Rebels. His desire to protect himself is paramount, and, even though Henry is obnoxious, this drive is completely understandable. Wandering around the forest post-flight, he manages to convince himself Nature commends this impulse and that he is actually much smarter than the rest of his companions who could not understand that flight was the natural thing to do. However, Henry also demonstrates that he is capable of self-sacrifice. When he takes the flag from the dead color-sergeant, he bears not only his regiment's symbol, but the greater symbol of brotherhood. Henry's sense of his individuality and his desire to preserve his life at all costs fades as he matures and understands that the cause is more important than he previously cared to admit. He must sublimate his individuality into the will of the group to achieve honor, which, to Henry, is more important than life.
How is war depicted as a spectacle?
Throughout the novel war is depicted as a spectacle to watch and absorb oneself in. In the midst of fighting the soldiers of the regiment are completely entranced by what happens around them, watching, mouths agape, at their friends fighting and falling, appearing stupid and dazed. Both before and after enlisting, Henry is particularly attracted to war and wants to see battle, which appears alternatively as a celestial battle, a fantastic machine, or a fearsome but compelling monster. In depicting - or in Henry's case, witnessing - war this way, there is a certain level of detachment that clouds out the grim reality of war. As flag-bearer later in the novel Henry only stands and watches, "deeply absorbed as a spectator" (108). The soldiers are certainly in awe of what they are seeing around them, but this does not necessarily render them dumb and inert; rather, they are more fully a part of their environment and their experience and feel the emotion of the moment more deeply and can thus be driven to act and be a part of the scene. Several critics have noted that Crane seems to be narrating his novel in a theatrical fashion, encouraging his readers to look upon war in a curious fashion. The readers, like Henry, are spectators.
How does Crane use irony in the novel?
Crane, young and brilliant, was a master of irony. The first major example of this is the fact that Henry yearns for his own "red badge of courage" and Crane gives him one - a blunt, accidental smack to the head with a rifle butt that Henry passes off as a war wound. Henry gets this wound because he deserts the battle and has to make his way back to his regiment, getting in the way of an annoyed retreating soldier. A second example of irony is the fact that Henry's fighting prowess in the second day of battle only happens when he is in a stupor, a sleepy and unconscious mental state lacking any element of foresight, courage, or mental preparedness. Thirdly, at the end of the second day Henry is still full of delusion and egocentricity; the irony is that he does not seem to ever have a grasp on who he really is while he tells himself repeatedly that he is a hero and a man. Crane's tone is ironic throughout, and provides a layer of complexity to the novel.