Wednesday, April 14, 2010


Although I have never read Stephen Crane’s The Red Badge of Courage, I have read the first few pages on, and the uncanny ability for an author to attempt to write about the devastating realities of war when he has never experienced it himself is remarkable. The intricate details embedded in this novella portray the human mind and spirit in the heart of the Civil War. A brief synopsis is given below:

"The story revolves around Henry Fleming, a member of the 304th regiment of the Union Army. At the start of the novel Henry is eager to show his patriotism in battle but when faced with the savagery of death he flees the frontline. Throughout the novel Henry struggles with his courage in the face of the horror of war. The Red Badge of Courage is a classic modern depiction of the psychological turmoil of war from the perspective of an ordinary soldier."

I’m not sure how many people are already familiar with this book, but it appears to be a tremendously interesting and heart-wrenching story that will remain with anyone who reads it. Moreover, it seems especially relevant to our own historical context.

Note: I just wrote about the book below before I realized that it’s not an American novel. So I will just say this is more of a personal recommendation rather than one to be used for class.

Fyodor Dostoevsky’s Crime and Punishment, originally published in 1866, has been sitting on my book shelf for awhile now. I’m not sure how many people have already read it, but the general summary on the back of the book is very intriguing:

"A desperate young man plans the perfect crime—the murder of a despicable pawnbroker, an old woman no one loves and whom no one will mourn. Is it not just, he reasons, for a man of genius to commit such a crime, to transgress moral law—if it will ultimately benefit humanity? So begins one of the greatest novels ever written: a powerful psychological study, a terrifying murder mystery, a fascinating detective thriller infused with philosophical, religious, and social commentary.

Raskolnikov, an impoverished student living in a garret in the gloomy slums of St. Petersburg, carries out his grotesque scheme and plunges into a hell of persecution, madness, and terror. Crime and Punishment takes the reader on a journey into the darkest recesses of the criminal and depraved mind, and exposes the soul of a man possessed by both good and evil…a man who cannot escape his own conscience."

I have read Notes From Underground by this author a couple years ago, and I thought he had a very intriguing perspective on life (however dark), and it has stuck with me. This particular novel, based on the synopsis, seems to relate to Joaquin Murieta’s rise above governmental law, and his choice to abide by his own moral code. A subject of ethics is very interesting to me since it’s something that we face every day, sometimes unconsciously, and this novel allows for a critical analysis and interpretation of these more pressing issues. I believe it’s important to choose novels that can, in some way or another, be applied to our own lives.


  1. After I read this post, I realized that I need to read Steven Crane. In fact I dont know anything about him and as an English major I probably should.
    Good post.

  2. I sometimes teach a novel by Crane in this course, Carissa, so thank you for proposing _Red Badge_.

  3. I've always heard great things about the Red Badge of Courage. Reading Crane is on my bucket list as well. Dr. Campbell, I was disappointed today to hear that you usually include Moby Dick in this course, because that is also on my reading bucket list. I appreciate the attempt to widen the course materials to beyond just the most cliche of classics, but I think you would be surprised how many students have never actually read through the books they've heard referred to throughout their lifetimes as the greatest American novels. For example, I'm ashamed to say that while I've read Roughing It and now Pudd'nhead Wilson, I've never read the Adventures of Tom Sawyer/Huckleberry Finn. Though we read Louisa May Alcott's Behind A Mask, I've never read Little Women. These are all books I've intended to read within my lifetime, but the confines and obstacles of life, school and work seem to make it so difficult.

  4. Reading _Moby Dick_ is a challenge but very worthwhile, Alli, so you can do it on your own even if you don't get to read it in class.