The Red Badge of Comprehension: Understanding Similes in Context

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SWBAT interpret the figures of speech in context and analyze their role in Stephen Crane's "The Red Badge of Courage" through a close reading and discussion.

Big Idea

General Sherman may have said "War is Hell," but Stephen Crane's descriptive language proves it.

Welcome & Introduction: It's The Start of African American Heritage Month

15 minutes

It's the first Monday in attendance this semester, and only the second one of the calendar year. I welcome our sure to be groggy students by informing them it's African American History/Heritage month, and we will be looking at poetry of the Harlem Renaissance as the semester goes on. African America Heritage Mon. For, now, however, it's the return of the Monday Mindbender and a look at how similes appear and are used in an excerpt from Stephen Crane's "The Red Badge of Courage."

Monday Mindbenders are brain games that I ask students to complete, but not for a grade, on Mondays each week, in order to kick off critical thinking and problem solving practice. In effect, I look at them as a "Monday Morning (or Afternoon) Wake-Up Call." I will provide extra credit for correct answers; students are asked to solve and write their answers on their own, and I try to appeal to a variety of abilities: word puzzles, patter recognition, mathematical reasoning, logic, etc. I draw Mindbenders from a variety of places, including a Mensa puzzle book, the game "Mindtrap," and various other puzzle books and websites. Today's Mindbender was published at, and is a variation on a classic, "How much dirt would be in a hole 6 feet deep and 6 feet wide that has been dug with a square edged shovel?" 

Addressing African American History Month, passing out Mindbender answer sheets, posting the question (they are projected onto the front board), allowing time to answer and monitoring students, collecting the answer sheets, and providing the correct answer will take up a large chunk of time, especially given it's the first time we're doing these in three months. But, even more than Daily Holidays, I've found that Mindbenders encourage a sense of student ownership and community in the classroom, and nurture a bit of healthy competition as well. Students do take pride in correct answers, and provide teachable moments when they have incorrect answers. 



Figurative Language in Practice: Stephen Crane's Similes

30 minutes

Today, we begin a look at Realism, through a look at the figurative language to describe a Civil War battle. Specifically, we will focus on similes used by Stephen Crane in "The Red Badge of Courage", as he uses figurative language to create a vivid, image-filled battle scene.  

Students have already done a close reading of an excerpt from Stephen Cranes' "The Red Badge of Courage": pages 30-31, of Chapter V, though, "Directly he was working his weapon like an automatic affair." (With thanks to Penn State University for making the text available as a .pdf online). I asked students to do the close reading on their own in order to provide them with the opportunity to analyze how the elements of Realism are revealed and shaped by specific details (CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RL.9-10.2). This section of the novel provide students with a portayal of the chaos of war, both from the opponent and on one's own side. Students have been informed that "The Youth" is Henry Fleming, the protagonist of the story. 

The elements of Realism students addressed in their reading are:

  1. Complex Characters (Dynamic/Round, not one-dimensional or solely archetypal.)
  2. Setting that is "here and now" to the place and time it is written in. 
  3. Dialogue that reflects how people of the setting speak. 
  4. Narration that tends to be "detached", reporting on the action.
  5. Addresses social themes, calls for change. 

Today, with a group of students made up of their rows, they examine this excerpt in order to find at least five similes Crane uses, and then with their groups, interpret the figurative language in context and analyze their role in the text (CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RL.9-10.4). I ask students to consider what the simile means and how it creates an image in their minds, and consider what impact the word choice has on the tone of the piece. Within their groups, and then by sharing with the class, student refer to evidence from the excerpt to stimulate a thoughtful, well-reasoned exchange of ideas (CCSS.ELA-Literacy.SL.9-10.1a).

Students are given the opportunity to work together  for two reasons:

1. To provide continuity, as they have already presented historical information together, and will be working together tomorrow to analyse and create figures of speech.

2. To draw from and support each other in the above-noted "exchange of ideas." By collaborating, students can check for clarification and understanding as they work together in groups. 

Volunteers will come to the board and lead discussion on each simile used. By sharing these examples with the rest of the class, I can ensure students have a list of vivid figures of speech, and that their notes are accurate. 

The five similes I direct students to discuss are: 

"The colonel...began to scold like a wet parrot"

"The commander regarding his men in a highly regretful manner, as if he regretted above everything his association with them"

"He coaxed in schoolmistress fashion, as to a congregation of boys with primers"

"the youth’s face...was soiled like that of a weeping urchin"

"he was working at his weapon like an automatic affair."

Wrap-Up & Reminders

5 minutes

With two minutes remaining, I let students know their homework: students are to read Ambrose Bierce's "An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge" (with thanks to Project Gutenberg for making the story available in many formats online), as well as a biographical sketch of him. As students read the story, I ask them to take note of the plot points, and why Bierce may not present them in chronological order (CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RL.9-10.5). 

There are many good biographical sketches of Bierce online, I chose to use The Literature Network's as it incorporates terms and definitions from Bierce's "The Devil's Dictionary" as section titles. Depending on student reaction, we may explore this work in more detail. Primarily, students will be looking at the biography in order to infer why Bierce, who fought for the North during the Civil War, would portray a Southerner so sympathetically in his story (CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RI.9-10.1).