Sunday, April 3, 2011

"The Red Badge of Courage" by Stephen Crane

In my attempts to read more "literature" that I somehow missed in college, I have been sticking to a list I found a few years ago. I have a very simple method: I've been reading the books in order of number of pages. So, shortest works to the longest tombs. "The Red Badge" is fairly short, clocking in at just under 200 pages or so. The copy I picked up from work was even shorter than that - ours was an illustrated edition, so drop probably a good 20 pages or so due to pictures.

It still took me almost 6 weeks to get through the darn thing.

In essence, it's a simple story. Henry Fleming, the "youth" from a northern state, decides to join the Union army despite his mother's objections. He's full of patriotic pride.... until he realizes that waiting for the war to get his brigade is just plain boring. There are several scenes of tired, bored, somewhat unorganized Union soldiers waiting for to see action. They often wonder if they're being marched from location to location simply to have something to do.

Then the Confederate army shows up and there's a big fight. And Henry's patriotism is sorely lacking; when the fight looks bad, he and several others turn tail and run. When he meets up with his platoon again, he's been whacked in the head with a rifle, giving him a rather nasty head wound. However, he spins a tale of being shot in the head; he doesn't want to admit to his cowardice. One soldier questions him on the story but eventually lets it go, and Henry finds a friend of his among the men, and all is well again.

There's another big battle scene, one where Henry really does have quite a bit of patriotic pride, refusing to give up this time even though he and his friend have overheard an officer saying that their troop is basically being sent in as cannon fodder. And they are, losing several men in the fight, but eventually they do emerge victorious, living to fight another day.

I won't say this is a bad book; even though I wasn't enjoying it, I could appreciate that Crane did an excellent job with the mechanics of the language and such. What I will say is that I just do not find "war" stories appealing on pretty much any level. I think the only one I ever read and liked was "All Quiet on the Western Front" - which is told from a very different viewpoint. I had to force myself to finish this small book; I kept falling asleep every time I picked it up. But finish it I did, and I can now mark it off my list.

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