Young Henry Fleming leaves his mother on the farm to join the Union Army during the Civil War. He is discouraged by his regiment's lack of action, but when the time arrives to fight, he runs. Once Henry finds his way back to his people (after the battle), they accept him back in and nurse the wound they think he received during the fighting. Henry goes on to fight like a little tiger, hoping to prove to himself that he's worthy of their esteem.
This report prepared by Sarrah
Published in 1895, 'The Red Badge of Courage' is set in the American Civil War and the story is told by a youth who joins up to march and fight and win glory. So they march, they camp, they eat short rations, they wait, they march. He broods and tortures himself during the tedium: Is he ready for war? Will he be brave? At first he does fight, but then he breaks and runs. He feels he is a coward, but to show for his part in the fight he has a wound, a red badge of courage. When he returns to his comrades they take him for something of a hero.
The ebbing and eddying emotions of war are all here, the moods of individual men and the groupthink of the mob. His mother, sick with fear and already grieving her loss, packs the youth off to war. She advises him not to get into bad company (some soldiers have such bad attitude), and that she has put some of his favourite jam in his knapsack. The old-timers call the rookies 'fresh fish'; the fresh fish squabble and tell make-fool stories about the war they have not yet fought.
Strangely, the author seems to be capable of doing everything he does well just as badly. His style often slips, and early on his inconsistent prose is often 'tell and not show', with many a stale simile and muddled metaphor. There is some awkward grammar (eg, chap. 3: 'There were perspiration and grumblings'.) Much of the dialogue is clipped and pungent, straight off the battle field, but some of it is overly lengthy, an incoherent yammering, and very uninteresting. All in all, a good but flawed war story; at somewhat over a hundred pages very suitable for school study. Compare and contrast with Vietnam war stories and their films, such as 'We Were Soldiers'.
This report prepared by Michael JR Jose