The Red Badge of Courage and War
So Private Fleming's most childish qualities, his deficiencies in those characteristics that we identify with full maturity, are the very things that conspire eventually to make him a superb and admired combat soldier. Does this mean that The Red Badge of Courage—perhaps equating martial virtues with human childishness and surely illustrating in this single "Episode" that the latter can produce the former—is an "antiwar" novel? On this issue critical opinion is radically divided. Consider two estimations. From The Unwritten War by Daniel Aaron: "The Red Badge is usually read as a tale of initiation: a youthful hero, after having been overmastered by fear, regains self-confidence and acquires a juster view of his importance in the cosmos. Less obviously, it is a profane parable against war and against its glorifiers and apologists." From Male Desire and the Coming of World War I by Michael C. C. Adams: "Undergraduates regularly describe Stephen Crane's The Red Badge of Courage as the first modern antiwar novel in English. Though hallowed by repetition, this opinion misreads the viewpoint underlying the text. It fails to acknowledge that Henry Fleming, the hero, is made a man through war." These conclusions are absolute mirror images one of the other, even in the assumption each makes about the fallacious general consensus against which its own argument is set.1
1. Aaron, Unwritten War, 215; Michael C. C. Adams, The Great Adventure: Male Desire and the Coming of World War I, 47.