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Henry Fleming enlists in the Union army during the Civil War against his mother's wishes. He dreams of heroic feats and monumental battles. After months of camp boredom, Henry doubts whether heroic battles still exist. Even worse, Henry worries he'll run during the fight.
Henry's fears are realized as he runs during his second battle. He rationalizes his actions, esteeming himself as smarter than the average soldier, despite the fact his side won. Luckily, Henry is wounded by the butt of another fleeing soldier's gun and has an excuse as he returns to camp.
It isn't long before Henry's regiment is back in action. This time Henry stands out as a ferocious fighter. More importantly, he gains self confidence as he confronts his fears and conquers them. He is no longer the scared little boy who ran.
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There are plenty of literary elements at plan in this short novel which provides excellent teaching opportunities.
- Imagery: Focus on colors, especially red. Descriptive passages of nature abound. A detailed description of a dead soldier in the woods delights teenagers.
- Man vs. Self Conflict: The most important battle in this war novel is between Henry and himself, and by extension, the reader and him or her self. Henry goes through the same struggles that anybody looking to achieve greatness goes through.
- Elements of Naturalism and Realism: Crane attempts to create a realistic war novel. The Red Badge of Courage also includes several aspects of naturalism, the most obvious being that nature is indifferent toward man.
- Irony: Henry considers himself to be the focal point of the entire war. In reality, he's part of only a minor skirmish. Other battle ironies include Henry running during a victory and fighting ferociously during defeat.
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The following lesson plans work well once you get past the first five chapters.
- Identify and analyze examples of color imagery in the novel. This Of Mice and Men imagery lesson plan can be adapted for use with The Red Badge of Courage.
- Do a creative writing assignment requiring students to discuss a time in their life that fear stopped them or caused them to do something they were ashamed of. Examples include not sticking up for someone who was being bullied, not going out for football, or not asking someone out on a date.
- Surprise attack another classroom that's reading the novel. Use paper wads and duct tape for cannon balls. If you invade a portable, use water guns. Be careful, however, or you may end up taped to a chair.
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Assigning a Review
Students can demonstrate an understanding of the book by writing a review. Instruct each student to do the following after reading the novel:
- Write a brief summary of The Red Badge of Courage, 100-200 words.
- Write a brief Red Badge of Courage analysis, extolling its literary merit, 150-200 words.
- Write a review of main ideas and events.
Novels for High School
- Novels in High School: Brave New World Analysis and Review
- Novels for High School: The Old Man and the Sea Book Review
- Novels for High School Students: Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe
- A Review of The Catcher in the Rye for High School Teachers with Lesson Plans for The Catcher in the Rye
- Red Badge of Courage Review with Lesson Plan