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Themes

The Red Badge of Courage argues that man is alone in a vast and indifferent universe. For the main character, a young Civil War soldier, this is at first a horrifying thought. It is also, however, an ultimately freeing thought, giving him a sense of agency and personal responsibility to a greater degree than he possessed before. The novel also considers questions of what is natural and what is not, such as warfare, fleeing from battle, courage, and self-sacrifice.

Questions About Man and the Natural World

  1. Why does it matter that all of nature seems "indifferent" to the plight of the soldiers?
  2. How does Henry view nature – as something kind? Indifferent? Malevolent?
  3. How are men different from animals in this novel?

Chew on This

Try on an opinion or two, start a debate, or play the devil’s advocate.

In The Red Badge of Courage, Crane paints a contradictory portrait of nature as both beautiful and dangerous. This mimics Henry’s view of battle as both glorious and deadly.

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