Examples of Figurative Language in 'The Red Badge of Courage'

In his novel "The Red Badge of Courage," Stephen Crane introduces the reader to the fictitious story of Henry Fleming, a young Union soldier fighting in the American Civil War. Through the use of many types of figurative language, including symbolism, imagery, irony and personification, Crane pulls the reader into the scenes of the war and allows the reader to enter the mind of a confused young soldier.


The title of the novel draws the reader's attention to one of the main symbols in the book. Henry, the main character, views a wound in battle as a symbol of courage. Crane does, however, insert other examples of symbolism throughout the novel. For example, the dead man that Henry sees as he flees from battle represents the capriciousness of life and death. The corpse, covered with crawling ants, gave Henry the opportunity to consider the fact that nature did not care about the lowly soldier, and that death could come to a person no matter how brave.


Throughout the book, the vivid imagery allows the reader to "see" the battlefield in all its glory -- and all its gore. Descriptions of armies preparing for battle, of a dead body lying in the field covered by insects, of the bloody injuries of Henry's comrades, all bring the novel to life. Crane describes each aspect of the story with words that appeal to the reader's senses, helping to create a believable storyline. In fact, the novel was considered "impressionist," based on the author's vivid descriptions of both visual beauty and internal confusion, according to PBS.org's website on "The American Novel."


The primary example of irony in the book revolves around the "red badge of courage" in the novel's title. Henry believes that in order to be seen as brave, he needs to earn a "badge" -- a wound -- in battle. Ironically, when Henry finally does receive a wound, it is while escaping from battle and running away from his friends in need. This is the opposite of courage, and yet Henry hides the cause of his wound from his friends and goes on to be known as a courageous fighter.


Crane also uses personification to give groups of people a collective personality. The regiment is often discussed as if it were one person, rather than a collection of people all awkwardly going through the same action. This use of personification shows the mentality of the soldiers and emphasizes the fact that they were to act as a single unit rather than as individuals.