Monday, July 6, 2009

So What is Courage?

I must admit that I had a love/hate relationship with this book.

First of all it moved very quickly, I actually read it casually, in about 3 days.
Secondly I loved the pictures that were painted and how you could really "see" what was happening in the battles. I thought there were some beautiful analogies.
As far as the story itself, I had very mixed feelings. I loved how honest the book was. For example I thought it was so true to life, how "the youth" had dreamed of battles all his life, had fought with his mother for months about enlisting, gone on to enlist without her blessing and then when the battle actually came, he had never wanted this, he was forced to join and he was disgusted by his stupid commanders.
I also found it true how he had so many flash backs of his previous life in the heat of different circumstances.
I appreciated his self doubt about whether he could be brave in battle or not, or if he would run. I saw so much of how I would be in his trying to get others to admit to something, without he himself admitting he was scared. But I thought that he would get to the battle and adrenaline would take over and he would perform just fine. His running did surprise me. Although, I was first inclined to do some justifying myself. He had followed others, he thought that everyone would run. He wasn't the first to take off. But the way he handled things afterwards very much upset me. I was especially appalled by the way that he left the injured man, how he hated him, just because he wanted to know where his wound was. A dying man was trying to care more about the youth than himself and in return he was left to die a lone. I was disgusted. And later when he returned to his regiment and they assumed that he had fought, been separated and shot and he actually had the audacity to think of ways to make fun of the "loud soldier" because he hadn't died; well, I wanted to reach into the book and smack him!

When he did finally meet his battles and went to another place in his mind and fought very hard, and at times valiantly, I was glad and rejoiced that he had over come his weaknesses.
As a very patriotic person, I was almost moved to tears when he took it upon himself to carry the flag. When he realized how much that it meant to him and never again gave it up.

And I was happy with the ending; how he was able to look back at all he had done honestly. How he was able to admit his mistake and feel guilt without trying to make excuses and justifications, yet he was able to push it aside by seeing the good he had ultimately done as well, so that he was able to move on and go back to a "normal" post military life.

I also believe that there are great life lessons in personal character that can be learned from this book. I think that it might be a little much for my 11 year old, but it is definitely on my list of "my son must read this." (Just a couple years of maturity down the road.)

I'm also glad that we ended up extending the reading time for last months book. Because I tried hard to finish it before starting this one, I ended up reading/finishing it during Independence day weekend and I couldn't help but liken what the battles of the Civil War had to have had in common with those of the Revolutionary War. It made me appreciate again, and all the more, what so many others have sacrificed for me in all the wars that have been fought for my country.

I hope that you enjoyed this quick read as well and I can't wait to read your thoughts on the book.
I hope you had a WONDERFUL holiday.


Sharon in KY said...

I too enjoyed reading The Red Badge of Courage, especially because I read it aloud to my almost 13yo son. Stephen Crane's language, read aloud, is absolutely beautiful, full of imagery and alliteration. After finishing, I had my son randomly open the book; it landed in Chapter 20. Then I searched those 2 pages for:

Alliteration - bullets buffed, midst of the mob, silent ranks were suddenly, ducked and dodged

Simile - The officers labored like politicians..., He was like a babe which, having wept its fill..., The two bodies of troops exchanged blows in the manner of a pair of boxers

Personification - lazy and ignorant smoke, energetic rifles, angry firings

Metaphor - roar of wicked thunder from the men's rifles

And that was a quick look on 2 random pages!!

Together my son and I did a quick literary analysis. We started with conflict. Though a war is in progress my son Paden rightly identified the conflict as Henry with himself. Henry wants the peace of knowing he will perform well in battle..."like a man."

Then I wanted to identify the climax of the story, as it makes identifying the other elements of the plot easier. Where did the story "turn"? We decided in Chapter 17, when Henry fought in a stupor of rage, he changed. After this skirmish, he is consistently, aggressively, and stubbornly at the front of his regiment's battles.

In the Exposition we're introduced to Henry and his doubts about himself as an uninitiated Union soldier.

Our quick summary of the Rising Action: The regiment wins a skirmish and the next moment of battle Henry runs in panic. He watches a friend die and leaves another dying man. He returns to his regiment.

In the Denouement, Henry stays in battle at the front. Veterans mock his regiment's "charge". They go in again and conquer.

Conclusion - Henry faces the good and the bad revealed about himself in the past 2 days.

And Theme I'm not great at confidently identifying. I'd say the Theme is Cowardice & Bravery or Facing our Fears.

Simple remarks, I know, but I enjoyed the discussions Paden and I had throughout the book. While reading he often would say "That's creepy!" He was especially affected by the scene where Henry, back in camp, wakes and sees his fellow soldiers in the eerie foggy morning light and they appear as corpses. Paden must have really seen that in his mind because it spooked him.

Shimmy Mom, Did you finish Anna?

Sharon in KY said...

Shimmy Mom,

I just noticed there's no poll for an August book. Do you have something special planned for us?

Shimmy Mom said...

No to both your questions Sharon. I am going to get through Anna.. but I haven't quite finished it yet. And there will be a poll for August VERY SOON. my internet crashed yesterday and I wasn't able to get it posted, but it should be here soon.

Sharon in KY said...

Shimmy Mom,

I just checked again and, viola, an August book poll. I apologize if I seemed impatient. Thank you for all of your work in finding the books.

Amy said...

I really enjoyed all the things you pointed out Sharon. I don't always pay attention to all of that stuff, and it's interesting to see. I agree that Crane's language was very beautiful and easy to read.

This is such an interesting book, with the different directions Henry's character takes. I was also surprised that he ran away on the first day. Leaving behind the wounded soldier seemed like an insensitive thing to do, but it appeared to me that there wasn't much to be done for the wounded soldiers. There were people bleeding and dying everywhere. Of course, Henry left because he was upset and embarrassed that he didn't have any injuries. The guilt he was feeling propelled some of his bad choices.

I think the important thing is that once the battle was over he was able to look back at that first day and learn from it. During the second day he became a much different person, someone he felt he could be proud of. He had to put his "sin at a distance", and he realized that he despised his early beliefs and was happy to see that change in himself.

Henry was able to overcome his personal struggle and he realized that "he would no more quail before his guides wherever they should point." He felt that he had become a man, and his soul was changed.

A lot of us make bad choices, or do things we regret, but the important thing is to learn from those mistakes. We can put our sins in the distance (repent), and become a better person through the experience. That is was this book was about for me.