Stephen Crane’s Red Badge of Courage When reading the Red Badge of Courage, it is necessary to understand the symbolism that Stephen Crane has created throughout the whole book. Without understanding the true intent of color use, this book loses a meaningful interpretation that is needed to truly understand the main character, his feelings and actions. Crane uses very distinct colors in his text to represent various elements that the main character, Henry or “the youth”, is feeling along his adventure of enlisting into battle. Red, yellow and gray are the main color’s Crane uses consistently in the majority of the chapters to describe Henry’s inner conflicts and feelings. The color purple is mentioned very briefly but reflects Henry’s feelings in a powerful manner. Certain colors dominate throughout the book and there is a change of domination as Henry matures into a real soldier.
The color yellow, when mentioned in the text, represents Henry feeling like a coward and knowing his actions were cowardly. Crane uses the color yellow more in the beginning as Henry was just learning to become a soldier. As the book goes on and Henry matures, the color yellow is not mentioned as often. The color yellow appears in the first chapter when Henry’s mother states that enlisting is a bad idea. He feels his mother’s words were putting a “yellow light upon the color of his ambitions.” This is a significant statement because at this point in the book, Henry’s cowardice has not yet emerged and his only visions of battle are of him becoming a brave, heroic soldier. Henry’s feelings switch from confidence to cowardice as he runs away from his very first battle. When he looks back at the battlefield with shame, he can see nothing but yellow fog. Crane intended this yellow fog to represent Henry’s feelings of cowardice after running from his first opportunity of battle. The color yellow appears again in chapter nineteen, as Henry is about to face another battle. The guns that are fired are described as having a yellow flame. This image brings the reader back to the fact that Henry still has cowardice feelings about-facing this battle even though his actions may be contradicting.
The color red takes on various contexts in this book and is often used when there is some reference to battle, war, and rage. Unlike the color yellow, Crane used the color red…
…nded that war brings about horrible situations and leaves the few surviving with lost loved ones and terrifying memories.
The color purple is mentioned only a few times but reflects Henry’s feelings at the beginning and the end of the book. This color signifies royalty and honor. In chapter two, when Henry still believes that in the end all the men will be honorable brave hero’s the uniforms are described as being a deep purple. Not till the end of the book in chapter 24 does Crane again use the color purple when he mentions that the “fellows marched now in wide purple and gold” to show once again that royalty is present and all that had survived are being now being honored.
Throughout the text of the Red Badge of Courage Crane uses but a few specific colors and has significant meaning for each one of them. In order to truly understand and feel what the main characters are feeling, more importantly Henry, it is extremely important for the reader to comprehend what each color signifies and how it relates to the feelings of Henry and the other characters. Without this type of understanding one can not fully appreciate Cranes writing in the Red Badge of Courage.