CONCOURS GÉNÉRAL DES LYCÉES – SESSION DE 2011
(Classes terminales ES, L et S)
Durée : 5 heures
L’usage de tout dictionnaire est interdit.
The central character, called ‘the youth’, is a young soldier who has run away from his first battle in panic.
Presently the calm head of a forward-going column of infantry appeared in the road. It came swiftly on. Avoiding the obstructions gave it the sinuous movement of a serpent. The men at the head butted mules with their musket stocks. They prodded teamsters indifferent to all howls. The men forced their way through parts of the dense mass by strength. The blunt head of the column pushed. The raving teamsters swore many strange oaths.
The commands to make way had the ring of a great importance in them. The men were going forward to the heart of the din. They were to confront the eager rush of the enemy. They felt the pride of their onward movement when the remainder of the army seemed trying to dribble down this road. They tumbled teams about with a fine feeling that it was no matter so long as their column got to the front in time. This importance made their faces grave and stern. And the backs of the officers were very rigid.
As the youth looked at them the black weight of his woe returned to him. He felt that he was regarding a procession of chosen beings. The separation was as great to him as if they had marched with weapons of flame and banners of sunlight. He could never be like them. He could have wept in his longings.
He scarched about in his mind for an adequate malediction for the indefinite cause, the thing upon which men turn the words of final blame. It-whatever it was-was responsible for him, he said. There lay the fault.
The haste of the column to reach the battle seemed to the forlorn young man to be something much finer than stout fighting. Heroes, he thought, could find excuses in that long seething lane. They could retire with perfect self-respect and make excuses to the stars.
He wondered what those men had eaten that they could be in such haste to force their way to grim chances of death. As he watched his envy grew until he thought that he wished to change lives with one of them. He would have liked to have used a tremendous force, he said; throw off himself and become a better. Swift pictures of himself, apart, yet in himself, came to him-a blue desperate figure leading lurid charges with one knee forward and a broken blade high-a blue, determined figure standing before a crimson and steel assault, getting calmly killed on a high place before the eyes of all. He thought of the magnificent pathos of his dead body.
These thoughts uplifted him. He felt the quiver of war desire. In his cars, he heard the ring of victory. He knew the frenzy of a rapid successful charge. The music of the trampling feet, the sharp voices, the clanking arms of the column near him made him soar on the red wings of war. For a few moments he was sublime.
He thought that he was about to start for the front. Indeed, he saw a picture of himself, dust-stained, haggard, panting, flying to the front at the proper moment to seize and throttle the dark, leering witch of calamity.
Then the difficulties of the thing began to drag at him. He hesitated, balancing awkwardly on one foot.
He had no rifle; he could not fight with his hands, said he resentfully to his plan. Well, rifles could be had for the picking. They were extraordinarily profuse.
Also, he continued, it would be a miracle if he found his regiment. Well, he could fight with any regiment. He started forward slowly. He stepped as if he expected to tread upon some explosive thing. Doubts and he were struggling.
He would truly be a worm if any of his comrades should see him returning thus, the marks of his flight upon him. There was a reply that the intent fighters did not care for what happened rearward saving that no hostile bayonets appeared there. In the battle-blur his face would, in a way, be hidden, like the face of a cowled man.
But then he said that his tireless fate would bring forth, when the strife lulled for a moment, a man to ask of him an explanation. In imagination he felt the scrutiny of his companions as he painfully labored through some lies.
Eventually, his courage expended itself upon these objections. The debates drained him of his fire.
Stephen Crane, The Red Badge of Courage, 1895
1. Apart from his being called « the youth », what shows that the main character is a very young man?
2. Comment on the contrast between « the youth » and the other men.
3. Literary critics have often associated Stephen Crane’s works with naturalism. To what extent do you find the term « naturalistic » relevant to qualify this passage?
4. Stephen Crane never fought in the war; yet when it was published, The Red Badge of Courage was commonly and firmly believed to be a first-hand account. How can literature be the means of exploring unexperienced situations?
Translate into French from « Swift pictures of himself » (paragraph 6) down to « he was sublime » (paragraph 7).