Color Imagery in The Red Badge of Courage
Stephen Crane uses color imagery and color symbols in The Red Badge of Courage. Green represents youth, red is a symbol of Henry Fleming's mental visions of battle, and gray is used as a symbol for death. The colors are subtle representations of emotion, character, and one's perception of events.
"As the landscape changed from brown to green, the army awakened, and began to tremble with eagerness at the noise of rumors" (Crane 368). Like children, the young soldiers circulate rumor within the regiment (Rice). Later Crane writes "he was aware that these battalions with their commotions were woven red and startling into the gentle fabric of the softened greens and browns. It looked to be the wrong place for a battlefield" (Crane 377). Green represents the youthfulness of the battalions, and red is an image of battle (Rice).
Red is used most often in The Red Badge of Courage. Crane writes of "...the red eye-like gleam of hostile campfires set in the low brow of distant hills," (Crane 368). In Henry's mind, the campfires represent the eyes of the enemy. Crane then continues with the metaphor in later chapters. He writes, "?he conceived them to be growing larger, as the orbs of a row of dragons advancing." (Crane **) "The red of the campfires comes to represent the eyes of the enemy, of dragons. The monstrous dragons are indeed, the opposing army." (Rice)
All forms of war are red to Henry. "...war, the red animal - war, the blood-swollen god." (Crane 378) This animal of war "rules over and feasts on battles." (Rice). Henry characterizes the battles as a "crimson roar". The screams and the gunfire are red to him. The red world of war is comparative to the red world of Hell. A prisoner curses his captors to the "red regions". "Whether or not he intends for them to go to the red regions of Hell is irrelevant; they are already in some kind of Hell." (Rice)
Anger is also shown through the color red. At the end of the book, Henry feels odium towards himself and lets out "an outburst of crimson oaths" (Crane **). These oaths could be promises regarding his courage in battle or they could be words spoken in fury. Earlier, Henry is in a "red rage" (Crane 382) that "demonstrates the violent passion of this soldier's desire to fight." (Rice)
By the end of the book, Henry had "rid himself of the red sickness of battle" (Crane 423). Red here represents not anger, but fear. Henry finds his courage not through a wound but by overcoming his fear of "the red animal, war" and being able to face death. It was the red sickness that previously kept him from his red badge of courage. (Rice)