Monday, May 19, 2014

Book 53- Red Badge of Courage (85th Book)

Those who know me personally, know I have a trauma reaction to war. I am particularly traumatized by anything First World War-ish. The thought of trench warfare sends me cringing into a corner, rocking back and forth on my heels. I once had a friend who caused me to collapse in a heap in a drama game simply by whispering things about a war scene from Legends of the Fall. Remembrance Day is a hated holiday for me and I avoid war movies like the plague. So, needless to say, it is was with great trepidation that I picked up Book 53-The Red Badge of Courage. I was just stubborn enough with this challenge to push past my fear and read this extremely short novel about the American Civil War. I was pleasantly surprised. As much as I hate war I love novels of development and this definitely fits the Bildungsroman category.

The novel follows Henry Fleming as he sets out for his first real taste of war. He starts out idealistic and hopeful, but then runs in terror when he first encounters battle. Although he eventually goes back and finds his troop, he has to live with his initial desertion through the rest of the novel. He struggles with how to assimilate his cowardice with the idea he has of himself and it makes for a very poignant novel. Henry is a very relatable character who I felt for very much. He is real and honest and his struggle to live with himself in the wake of his desertion is absolutely touching.  The descriptions of war are horrific, but are off set by a large amount of internal dialogue. It is as much a critique of war as it is a critique of the unrealistic standards we hold up for ourselves.

I loved when I discovered that the phrase "Red Badge of Courage" was a description of wounds. In the novel this refers not only to physical wounds, but I also believe it refers to the more permanent emotional wounds that we carry around with us. Although Henry might have been cowardly for running away, he is courageous for coming up with a way to live with himself in the face of personal disappointment. "A moral vindication was regarded by the youth as a very important thing. Without salve, he could not, he thought, wear the sore badge of his dishonour through life."

This novel deserves a place in history as a classic novel because it was able to bring something hated and distance from me into the forefront of mind in very real way. I have loved this Novel 100 challenge for the simple reason that it has pushed me to read things I would have otherwise avoided. The next novel has been on my to-do list for years. John Steinbeck is one of my favourite novels and I am very excited to read Book 54-Grapes of Wrath next.