Ideas and Topics for Papers


1. Crane said that he learned from the German author Johann Wolfgang von Goethe that certain colors affect human feelings. What use does Crane make of colors in The Red Badge of Courage?

2. Many critics, including Crane himself, have been dissatisfied with the novel’s resolution. Do you think that The Red Badge of Courage has a satisfactory ending?

3. How much real control over events do the officers exert in The Red Badge of Courage? Why does Crane choose a common soldier, rather than an officer, as his protagonist?

4. What is meant by the term anti-hero? Is Henry Fleming an anti-hero?

5. In his “Ode: Intimations of Immortality” (1807), the poet William Wordsworth portrays nature as a “homely nurse of mankind.” Read this poem. What do you think Wordsworth meant by the phrase “homely nurse”? Is nature portrayed in The Red Badge of Courage as a “homely nurse,” or does it play some other role?

6. Can you find any examples of humor in The Red Badge of Courage? If so, what kinds, and where?

7. How does Henry Fleming measure up to the heroes of classical Greek antiquity whom he admires so much?

8. As the novel ends, Henry is still remembering with remorse the tattered soldier whom he twice abandoned. Explain that soldier’s role.

9. In what sense might The Red Badge of Courage be a prose poem? How does Crane’s use of imagery function more as a poetic than a prose technique?

10. What is an allegory? To what extent is the novel allegorical?

11. Is Wilson, as he is portrayed in the second half of the novel, as much of a hero as Henry? Can a novel have more than one hero?


1. Compare the life of a private in the army as depicted by Crane in The Red Badge of Courage to that of a private in the war in Vietnam. You can find information about the Vietnam War in books such as Michael Herr’s Dispatches (1977). Has the American soldier changed radically since the Civil War? Why?

2. Twentieth-century American author Ernest Hemingway said that he admired Crane’s writings. Some critics have noted the influence of Crane in Hemingway’s A Farewell to Arms (1929), a novel set during World War I. Compare the style and characterization in the two works.

3. Crane was reassured when he finally witnessed a battle and realized that his descriptions of war The Red Badge of Courage had been very accurate. Compare Crane’s reports from Greece and Cuba to his Civil War fiction. You can find these reports, as well as Crane’s other Civil War stories, in Crane: Prose and Poetry, a volume in the Library of America series.

4. Find a description of the Battle of Chancellorsville. What use has Crane made of this battle in his novel?

5. Crane preferred his poetry to his novels. Read The Black Riders and Other Lines (1895), Crane’s favorite book among his works. How do you think it compares to his fiction?

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