The Use Of Intense Imagery In Red Badge Of Courage, A Novel By Stephen Crane

Stephen Crane’s Red Badge of Courage has become famous for its vivid and horrifying depictions of Civil War events from the viewpoint of a young man. Crane’s vivid imagery is often enhanced by realism or impressionism. Crane uses words and symbols to evoke emotions in his readers by using extreme detail. Crane’s use of intense imagery makes him the author who has been credited as having written the most realistic representation of warfare, while still being artistic and symbolic (Norton 181).

Crane explains the character development of the narrator in Chapter XXIV. As he “trudged” away from his battlefield, Crane says, “his soul changed.” He changed from hot ploughshares to clover tranquility. Scars became flowers. The author uses the words hot plowshares, clover tranquility and scars to illustrate how Henry has grown and changed. It creates a feeling of pride for the reader. After all, they’ve been following Henry since the beginning and have experienced his insecurity. This emotionally charged and symbolic description shows how impressionism is used to make a reader understand a story. The reader can see how the connections between the text and Henry’s personal journey help them to understand the bigger picture. Impressionism achieves this by using emotion. As a result, the reader is better able to understand Henry as a person because of their emotional attachment.

Crane uses vivid sensory images to bring war alive for readers. In Chapter XIV he describes a distant bugle singing faintly. The forest was filled with similar sounds of varying strength. The bugles sounded like gamecocks. The drums of the regiment rolled with a near-thunderous sound” (Crane, 64). This powerful description makes the reader think they can hear the sounds just like the narrator. Crane uses intense descriptions to overwhelm the reader, simulating the sensory overload that a war-fighter would feel. Crane uses a chaotic image to help the readers understand why soldiers are forced to flee. Each scene is made more vivid by the extreme detail that Crane gives.

The novel uses both impressionism and realism to enhance the graphic nature of the story. Crane describes Henry’s desire for a death in Chapter XI. “A blue, desperate figure standing before a crimson, steel, and steel assault… getting calmly executed on a place high before all eyes” (Crane48). Synesthesia creates the image of good and evil by combining a blue character with a crimson-colored assault. Henry’s death desire is driven by his pride. Crane uses descriptive, realistic language in this first quote to help the reader visualize Henry’s view of himself. Crane uses the same technique in Chapter 3 when describing another fallen soldier.

“Once, the line came across the corpse of a soldier. He laid on his back and stared at the skies. He wore an awkward yellowish-brown suit. The soles had worn so thin that they were like writing paper. One of his feet was also bare. The soldier felt betrayed. In death it revealed to the enemy what he may had concealed in life, from his friend” (Crane).

The reader is given a vivid image of the dead soldier by the realistic, but intense, description.

Crane uses impressionism to describe wars in a realistic way. He uses a narrator who is “less descriptive and emblematic” than theatrical (Norton 286) to create an emotional atmosphere. This allows him to “[extend] realism” down into the society of soldier. The characters’ lack of individualism also makes the reader feel more connected to the story and as though he is himself a young man at war. He uses impressionism in the narrative to describe the personal growth of the narrator. This is very similar to Equiano’s autobiography. Equiano, like Henry, goes through a phase where they are filled with childlike wonder and innocence. This is followed by a maturation into sophistication. Equiano goes through this as he adjusts to American society and culture, while Henry does so through his experience in war.


  • ewanpatel

    I'm a 29-year-old educational bloger and teacher. I have been writing about education for about six years, and I have a B.A. in English from UC Santa Cruz. I also have a M.A. in English from San Francisco State University. I teach high school English in the Bay Area.