The Red Badge of Courage by Stephen Crane

Fiction — audiobook. Read by Pat Bottino. Blackstone Audio, 2000. Originally published 1894. 5 hours, 10 minutes. Library copy.

Set during the American Civil War, Crane’s classic novel follows Henry Fleming, a young private in the 304th New York Regiment of the Union Army who deserts during battle after deciding the odds are in favor of the Confederate Army.

When Henry reaches the rear of the army, he overhears a general stating that his regiment managed to hold the line and win the battle upending Henry’s rationalization of his decision to flee. Ashamed after learning of the victory and interacting with a badly wounded Jim Conklin, Henry decides to return to his regiment and earn his own “red badge of courage”.

Crane’s exploration of the emotions surrounding war, particularly shame and camaraderie, and how such emotions can motivate a person to act against their own self-preservation makes this novel an intriguing read. Cowardice becomes courage due to the romanticism of war; the same romanticism that made a nineteen-year-old enlist in the first part.

Despite the interesting psychological exploration of war, I think listening this novel rather than reading it impacted my appreciate of the tale. Although I would consider myself to be rather comfortable with nineteenth-century prose, it was often difficult to image particular scenes or follow some of Henry’s meandering thoughts. Additionally, Bottino’s narration was rather straight-forward; he rarely seemed to raise his voice or add any inflection to help convey emotion, which is rather sad considering how the novel explores the exploitation of emotion to perpetrate war.

Others’ Thoughts:

The Classics Club:

I read this book for the Classics Club, which challenges participants read and discuss fifty or more books considered to be classics within a five year period. My personal goal for this project is to read seventy-five books in three years ending on August 15, 2017. You can find out more information by checking out my introductory post, project post, or spreadsheet of titles.

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