Friday, November 25, 2011

Reflections: The Red Badge of Courage

Adam C. Zern opines on Stephen Crane's The Red Badge of Courage:

"I knew very little about The Red Badge of Courage before reading it.  I knew it was considered a 'classic' American book, but that's about as far as my knowledge went.  As I have said in the past, I enjoy reading the classics for several different reasons; such as, I like to determine what all the fuss is about.  Some classics deserve their status while others leave me incredulous as to why they're regarded so highly.  I think The Red Badge of Courage falls into the latter category. -->

The book is not written poorly.  In fact, the first quarter of the book is excellent.  The observations about war, human nature, and personal courage and cowardice are really compelling.  And then something happens, and I'm not even sure what.  Instead of being compelling, the book's more interesting elements became redundant and tiresome, which seems odd since the book is only about 155 pages in length.  Perhaps part of the problem was I had no real connection or concern for the main character, Private Henry Fleming or as the author often refers to him—"the youth."

How modern the book felt surprised me.  I must admit I wasn't sure what to expect from a war novel published in 1895 but it felt much more fresh than I was anticipating.  I couldn't help but make comparisons to more modern war novels like Tim O’Brien's The Things They Carried, but I then realized that the comparison is backwards.  No doubt books like The Things They Carried owe something to The Red Badge of Courage, which has so many of the aspects of a war story that we have come to expect.

I didn't care for The Red Badge of Courage.  Although it was short, it felt too long.  It starts as a fascinating story about a young soldier trying to deal with very human fears and inadequacies but ends with a thud.  I'm willing to hear other opinions defending this book's status as a classic, but I didn't catch the vision on this one."

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