Analysis: What’s Up With the Title?
The title hails from a passage in the novel when Henry, our protagonist, sees the bloody, battle-injured men around him and "wishe[s] that he, too, had a wound, a red badge of courage" (9.47). The title is somewhat ironic since it seems to refer to a genuine flag or emblem of honor when, in fact, the "red badge" is nothing more than the blood oozing from a wounded man. Crane seems to contrast the patriotic notion of military bravery and honor with the mundane and sad inevitability of death and injury that is the reality of war. The title is paradoxical and intentionally so, especially since the wound the protagonist finally receives is accidentally inflicted by a fellow Union soldier and hardly a mark of courage. It actually becomes a mark of cowardice for Henry, since he lies about the wound and pretends to be wounded by the opposing side.