Symbolism in "The Red Badge of Courage" by Stephen Crane

Essay by kmh15High School, 10th gradeA+, December 2006

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In most classic American literature, symbolism is ingenuously present and undoubtedly praised. In the novel The Red Badge of Courage, Stephen Crane depicts the Civil War in a blatantly authentic manner. At the same time, he purposely creates a much deeper message through the usage of symbols. The novel is seemingly plot less, but when read thoroughly it is a truly remarkable personal account of such a milestone in United States history. Crane uses Jim Conklin, the flag, and even the title to establish more clearly the struggle, pride, and human nature that is revealed in battle.

Jim Conklin, or the "tall soldier," is a close companion to Henry throughout the entire novel. In the Red Badge of Courage, there are very few references to religion. Conklin's general attitude and death, however, was written to be a religious allegory. Crane intends for him to be a Christ-like figure.

On the scene of his death, "The red sun was pasted in the sky like a fierce wafer," (51). In the Catholic ceremonies, a wafer is taken at communion. The author states, "His spare figure was erect; his bloody hands were quietly at his sides," (50). His position and wounds at death are very similar to the crucifixion of Jesus Christ. Crane subtly used the wafer, and significant parts of his death, to create the effect of Christianity personified in Jim Conklin.

Outwardly, the flag in this novel, as in other typical war situations, represents how the regiment stands in battle. When looking deeper, those soldiers risked their lives to keep the flag standing. In the novel, "The youth's friend went over the obstruction in a tumbling heap and sprang at the flag as a panther at prey... swung up its red brilliancy with a mad cry...