The Red Badge of Courage By Stephen Crane Summary and Analysis Chapter 1

Summary

As the novel opens, the soldiers of a regiment are waiting for battle. After one of the men, a tall soldier, suggests that a battle is imminent, other soldiers argue against the notion. One of the young soldiers, Henry, a private, returns to the hut where the regiment is camped and thinks about war. He recalls his desire to enlist in the army, his mother's refusal to support the idea, and his eventual decision to enlist over her objections. He remembers the reactions of his schoolmates to his enlistment, his mother's advice to him when he leaves for the army, the reception given to his regiment as it moved toward Washington, the tedious waiting, and the frightening tales of war told by various veterans in the regiment. His mind struggles with the question of what he will do when — and if — an actual battle takes place.

Summary

As the novel opens, the soldiers of a regiment are waiting for battle. After one of the men, a tall soldier, suggests that a battle is imminent, other soldiers argue against the notion. One of the young soldiers, Henry, a private, returns to the hut where the regiment is camped and thinks about war. He recalls his desire to enlist in the army, his mother's refusal to support the idea, and his eventual decision to enlist over her objections. He remembers the reactions of his schoolmates to his enlistment, his mother's advice to him when he leaves for the army, the reception given to his regiment as it moved toward Washington, the tedious waiting, and the frightening tales of war told by various veterans in the regiment. His mind struggles with the question of what he will do when — and if — an actual battle takes place.

As he contemplates the prospects of battle, "a little panic-fear" grows in his mind, and, suddenly, he jumps from his bunk and begins to pace the floor. Other soldiers enter the hut, and the discussion about the prospect of an impending battle continues. The tall soldier, Jim Conklin, who brings the news that a battle is certain, comments on how he expects the new soldiers to react and on how he himself will react under fire.

Analysis

The overriding impression of this first chapter is one of conflict. The Union soldiers await a physical battle with the Confederate troops in the area. The eminent external conflict is paralleled by the fight raging in Henry's mind. As the book opens, the reader sees the main character, a soldier waiting for his first battle, ironically engaged in an internal conflict with his own thoughts.

The theme of the struggle between confidence and fear and doubt is a major portion of Chapter 1. Henry is so sure about the glory awaiting him in war that he enlists despite his mother's wishes. His romantic vision of war convinces him that he must enlist in the army. However, this confidence quickly fades, and even in this first chapter, Henry struggles between his romanticized assurance and his lack of confidence about his untested performance.

Henry is almost entirely introspective in this first chapter, which sets the stage for following Henry's thoughts and emotions throughout the novel. The reader can anticipate seeing Henry, a young man who initially turns inward when confronted by grave issues, develop the confidence necessary to be a frontline soldier. For Henry, initially, this introspective behavior overrides his reasoning ability, and only time and experience will help him face the realities of war. A part of this maturing process involves Henry's moving away from the questioning of his behavior and motivations, of his comrades' behavior and motivations, and of the officers' decisions and plans for battle.

In addition, the themes of duty and honor surface in Chapter 1. Henry recalls the wonderful sensation of honor and pride that he feels as his regiment is showered with attention on their way to Washington. Clearly, Henry prizes valor and feels a sense of honor and commitment toward his regiment; however, these valiant feelings are almost completely overshadowed by fear and lack of confidence. Again, the reader sees Henry as a youth with many opposing feelings and thoughts. This issue of honor, especially as it relates to being courageous under fire, or running from a fight, is a major plot motivator throughout the book.

Other characters presented in Chapter 1 reflect the conflict between youth and experience. The experienced soldiers may be skeptical of the skills and commitment of the untested, new recruits. The new enlistees may doubt the veracity of the tales told by the veterans. Both groups know that, at some point, the reality of a battle will resolve this issue.

The use of dialect is established in Chapter 1, and it continues throughout the book. The soldiers' conversations reflect the dialect of the speakers. This use of dialogue allows the reader to identify characters through their language, as well as their other behaviors, and allows Crane to contrast the colloquialisms and regionalisms stated with the more philosophical ideas presented through the thoughts of the characters. For example, when Henry contemplates on how he will react in battle, Crane states that "He [Henry] lay in his bunk pondering on it. He tried to mathematically prove to himself that he would not run from a battle." When the topic of battle comes up in conversation in the bunkhouse (the hut), the tall soldier (Jim) responds to Henry's question of whether there will be a battle by saying in very colloquial speech, "Of course there is. You jest wait 'til tomorrow, and you'll see one of the biggest battles ever was. You jest wait."

Thinking about war in philosophical terms while lying in one's bunk does not require one to face war realistically. Crane gets to the reality of war through the use of dialect and colloquialisms of the soldiers, those men who must fight and face death. For them, war is not a philosophical discussion; it is a battle for survival, and the language which they use reflects that understanding. Crane's use of dialect allows the reader to separate the philosophy of war from the reality which the men will face in battle.

Stylistically, Crane develops images through the use of figurative language, particularly personification (a type of metaphor which gives an inanimate object, a thing, or an idea the characteristics or qualities of a person), in this chapter and throughout the novel. For example, in the passage, "The cold passed reluctantly from the earth, and the retiring fogs revealed an army stretched out on the hills, resting," the cold, the fog, and the army are described as persons with specific behaviors, feelings, and needs. The use of personification and other forms of figurative language brings Crane's images of war to life.

Crane's use of both figurative language and rhetorical devices is constant throughout the text, primarily because he wants the reader to see that the beauty of nature will prevail, no matter what types of negative behaviors humanity introduces into the environment (in this case, waging war). Nature's beauty provides a contrast of beauty to the drabness, darkness, and destruction which humanity introduces into the environment.

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