Symbolism in the Red Badge of Courage Research Papers
Symbolism in the Red Badge of Courage is a typical topic that a literature professor will assign when reading Stephen Crane's classic novel. Let Paper Masters' writers explicate the symbols of the novel.
Stephen Crane manipulates symbolism in many places throughout The Red Badge of Courage. Because so much of the book focuses upon the coming of age of a young man, the symbols that are obviously present have much to do with his growth and maturity.
- First, the war in itself is a symbol for the journey that all young men must take to reach their maturity and an understanding about themselves and the world in which they live. Unpleasant though it may be, it is the war that brings about Henry’s self-realization and helps him to “grow up.”
- Secondly, the “badge” of courage that the title mentions is a symbol for much more than a physical “badge.” To one who has not read the book, it seems perhaps that Henry receives a medal or other badge for his courage under fire during the war. Instead, this “badge” is symbolic of the changes that take place in Henry’s “red” heart, and is secondly symbollic of the blood and wounds that others, as well as Henry, carry with them following the war. Those are their badges of courage--the red proof that they took part in so bloody a war.
Crane uses several motifs in the work to illustrate his symbolism and Henry’s maturation as well. First, the motif of nature is very obvious. Henry learns to battle, live and survive among the barest essentials in nature. While nature (Mother Nature) plays an important role, Henry also learns about the nature of man--and the basest emotions that men use when fighting and killing each other. Nature teaches Henry about the value of human and animal life. Secondly, the motif of sounds plays a role. While Henry is secluded in nature he learns to listen again for the sounds of birds, and squirrels (despite his meanness to one) and the silence that nature brings. However, the noise and terrible sounds of the arguing (Jim Conklin arguing over battle with others in the regiment), the fighting (guns, cannons, etc) and fear (men screaming as they are wounded, or yelling as they charge the enemy are noises that Crane uses to describe battle and its ferocity.