Where there is only difference, however, there can be no communication and still less can there be any education. It would be impossible to learn or to teach unless there is a common denominator present. Analytic Philosophy and Literature do merge, particularly, among other places, in literature about explicitly philosophical topics. Such works are evidence that philosophy and literature do correspond to one another in illuminating, though imperfect, ways. It is in search of such illumination that I begin this paper by examining a novel, Stephen Crane’s The Red Badge of Courage, that seems to blur the lines between literature and philosophy by unapologetically examining a deep philosophical conflict over issues revolving around free will in the context of a man’s life. Such a novel allows the critic to ask, what does this novel, through both its form and content, reveal to the audience about the human condition, and how does interpreting the text, by examining specific passages and applying certain concepts, reveal whatever that is? The Red Badge of Courage also serves as a springboard for the philosopher to ask, what ought the character believe about free will and which arguments support whatever that belief is?
To answer the critic’s question, I will do a close reading of certain passages from Crane using Mikhail Bakhtin’s theory of the polyphonic novel as well as a distinction that James Phelan makes between two kinds of recalcitrance, which he calls the difficult and the stubborn, that a reader might encounter during the act of reading. When combined and applied to The Red Badge of Courage, Bakhtin and Phelan’s concepts highlight, explore, and ultimately embrace the conflict a person experiences when considering issues related to free will and the implications of those considerations without resolving the conflict.