Understanding The Red Badge of Courage: A Student Casebook to Issues, Sources, and Historical Documents

Understanding The Red Badge of Courage: A Student Casebook to Issues, Sources, and Historical Documents

Understanding The Red Badge of Courage: A Student Casebook to Issues, Sources, and Historical Documents

Understanding The Red Badge of Courage: A Student Casebook to Issues, Sources, and Historical Documents

Synopsis

Every generation of readers has interpreted the meaning of The Red Badge of Courage anew. Its appeal is both historical and universal--historical in its Civil War setting and universal in its relating of the experiences of a young man who is thrust into a situation he does not understand and cannot cope with. This collection of historical documents, collateral readings, and commentary will promote interdisciplinary study of the novel and enrich the reader's understanding of its themes and historical context. A wide variety of more than 40 primary documents and firsthand accounts brings to life the Civil War experiences of leaders and soldiers of the Union and Confederacy, especially in the Battle of Chancellorsville, which is the setting for the novel. Carefully selected memoirs, poems, short stories, newspaper articles, and interviews illuminate the historical setting, the themes of cowardice and desertion, battlefield experiences, the soldier's life in camp, and the issue of pacifism as it relates to The Red Badge of Courage as an antiwar novel.

Excerpt

Not long after the publication of The Red Badge of Courage in 1895, an old veteran of the American Civil War declared that he had fought with Stephen Crane, the author, at the Battle of Antietam. And Crane himself reported that the British military establishment was convinced that he had fought in the Civil War, believing that only someone with an intense experience of the battlefield could have written the novel. The irony is that The Red Badge of Courage, one of the great war novels in the English language and certainly the best novel of the American Civil War, was written by a man who at the time, in his own words, "never smelled even the powder of a sham battle" (from his letter to John Northern Hilliard in 1897). Stephen Crane was not even born until 1871, some six years after the conclusion of the Civil War, one of the most critical, defining events in American history.

Brother fought brother on the farms and in the towns of the country. In a situation that occurred with some frequency, those sympathetic with the Union, like Abraham Lincoln, had close male relatives or in-laws who were fighting for the Confederacy. Some idea of the war's impact is suggested by the sheer numbers of Americans who died in it--some 600,000 men--not to mention those maimed by the war and the lives torn apart by separation, death, and economic loss. Although we have no record from Crane . . .

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