Published in 1895, Stephen Crane’s novel, The Red Badge of Courage, has been a fixture on school reading lists for years. Many homeschoolers read it as a part of their Civil War history lessons. We read it as a part of our book club last year.
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The Red Badge of Courage centers around Henry Fleming, a young man who joined the Union Army, against the wishes of his mother, based on his romanticized version of war.
Some time after he enlists, Henry’s brigade is ordered to march into battle. He believes that this is no big deal and he is destined to be a hero. Upon the first shot, however, he realizes his error. When the soldiers are engaged a second time, Henry runs away, trying to convince himself that he did the right thing.
Eventually, he meets up with a large group of wounded soldiers, who think he has left the battlefield due to an injury. Since a wound is a “red badge of courage,” and all of the men, except for Henry have one, this puts him in an uncomfortable position and he struggles to come to terms with reality and his decision.
Henry eventually meets up with his regiment, after being wounded (but not through the battle) and he again is faced with a dilemma. Does he come clean about his injury or continue to be treated like a courageous soldier?
The men go back to the battlefield and Henry finds that he has it in him to be brave, but is it enough to make him the hero he dreamt he would be?
After you read The Red Badge of Courage, expand your child’s learning with in-depth discussions and fun activities.
Possible Questions to Discuss with your Teen
- Do you think Henry was foolish for joining the army?
- In your opinion, was he a coward for running away?
- What impact do you think Jim’s death had on Henry?
- Why do you think Henry hesitated going back to his regiment?
- Would you have the courage to pick up the flag and push forward?
- Do you think Henry really changed?
The Red Badge of Courage Hands-on Activities
When we read this story as a part of our book club, we used food to help the kids understand some of what the soldiers faced. Use these recipes to make your own Red Badge of Courage snacks.
- Made with minimal ingredients, this hard bread was frequently a part of soldier’s rations.
- A corn cake that was a staple of pioneer cooking.
- Bean Soup
- When there was time, energy, and ingredients, the soldier’s enjoyed soup, especially bean with some salt pork.
Our kids completed a fun creative writing activity for this book. They were given a choice between choosing a scene and rewriting it from another character’s point of view or writing about an object, utilizing realistic descriptions, like the author used in the book.
Marianna relied on creative imagery to tell us about ice cream (see the image below) and Abigail rewrote Jim’s death scene from his own point of view.
The Red Badge of Courage is an amazing book. Hopefully, you’ve seen how easy it can be to bring it to life for your teen.
Have your teens read The Red Badge of Courage?
Find even more of our favorite books from our book club, along with activities and discussion questions you can use with your middle & high school students.