Symbols are objects, characters, figures, and colors used to represent abstract ideas or concepts.
In writing The Red Badge of Courage, Crane tried to render battle, and the lives of common soldiers, as authentically as possible. Accordingly, a realistic, almost journalistic style of writing dominates the narrative, leaving little room for the development of an overt, more literary system of symbols. However, there are a few noteworthy symbols in the novel. One of these is the dead soldier, who represents the insignificance of mortal concerns. Henry encounters the corpse, decaying and covered by ants, at a crucial moment: he has just reassured himself that he was right to flee battle and that the welfare of the army depends upon soldiers being wise enough to preserve themselves. Then the dead soldier, whose anonymity strips him of any public recognition of courage and glory (regardless of whether or not he deserved them), forces Henry to begin to question himself and the values by which he measures his actions.