The Red Badge of Courage
The Red Badge of Courage
by Stephen Crane

The Red Badge of Courage Plot Analysis

Most good stories start with a fundamental list of ingredients: the initial situation, conflict, complication, climax, suspense, denouement, and conclusion. Great writers sometimes shake up the recipe and add some spice.

Initial Situation

Henry enlists in the Union army and is waiting to do some fighting.

We join the novel when Henry is already in the field. Though we get some flashbacks and back-story, the majority of this stage consists of Henry’s anticipation and fears regarding the impending battle.

Conflict

Henry runs away in the heat of battle.

This is essentially emotional conflict for our main character, who must sort out the contradiction between his survival instinct and his desire to be a real soldier.

Complication

Henry is hit in the head by one of his fellow soldiers. He pretends he was shot in the head by the enemy.

This complicates Henry’s situation by raising the stakes of his deception. Now not only is he lying about the battle, he’s faked a war injury. Henry’s worry over getting found out and over the next battle dominate this stage.

Climax

Henry redeems himself by fighting like a demon and by taking up the Union flag when the flag bearer is mortally wounded.

This big battle scene is the turning point in Henry’s rather lengthy transformation. He ignores his fears and faces the battle like a real man. We’ve essentially been leading up to this climax since the first battle, when Henry ran away. This is "redemption city" for our main character.

Suspense

Henry fights even more desperately and very nearly dies. He encounters the Rebels face to face for the first time.

Henry overcomes his survival instinct, which is great for his masculinity, but not so great in regards to his chances of SURVIVING. As readers, we have to worry that he’ll die that noble death he dreamed of earlier…

Denouement

Even though he is tired and distressed, he helps capture the Confederate flag as well.

Well, Henry didn’t die. That’s a relief. Once the battle is over, we’re in "falling action" land, where Henry has time to reflect on his actions and character.

Conclusion

Henry makes it out of the battle alive, and with his new manhood intact.

Henry’s internal thoughts about his transformation form the bulk of this stage in the novel. He decides to face his shortcomings and to learn from them, rather than deny they exist. The novel ends on this rather positive note, with Henry taking a new role as a man and a hero, a far cry from the nervous boy we met at the story’s outset.

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