Stephen Crane was an American poet, short story writer, and novelist and was considered as one of the most realistic writers of his time. Although his life was short-lived, he managed to write works that have been celebrated as marking the beginning of American Naturalism. Stephen Crane is most regarded for his American classic, “The Red Badge of Courage”, but also has notable works in poetry, short stories and journalism. His innovative writing style left a deep-impression on the next generation of writers behind him. He was respected by many authors, among then Henry James and H.G. Wells, and influenced many others including Joseph Conrad and Ernest Hemingway. Stephen Crane is considered one of the most pioneering writers of his generation.
This paper will give valuable insights concerning the life and times of Stephen Crane. Examples of his most seasoned works will also be featured. More specifically, the works that will be featured include Maggie; a Girl of the Streets and The Red Badge of Courage. Anyone that can read Stephen Crane’s work will be able to see that his works resemble those of Hamlin Garland; this is because Hamlin is the author from whom Crane derived most of his inspiration from. Stephen Crane’s artistry lied in his ability to pass on a personal vision grounded upon his personal sense of integrity.
Stephen Crane was born on November 1, 1871 in Newark, New Jersey. Born to Mary Helen Peck Crane and Reverend Jonathan Townley Crane, Stephen was the youngest of 14 children. Only 9 of the 14 children survived. Crane’s father was a minister for the Methodist Episcopal Church and his mother was a writer. As a child, Crane was often sick with colds. Despite him always being sick, Crane managed to teach himself how to read before he was four years old.
At start of his youthful life Stephen Crane had written his first short story known as “Uncle Jake and the Bell Handle”; this he managed at the tender age of 14 years old. Crane attended college at Lafayette in Easton, Pennsylvania in order to obtain a degree in mining engineering. While there he became involved in the literary society. After one semester at Lafayette, Crane transferred to Syracuse University in New York and joined the liberal arts program. During this time Crane began focusing on his writing and began experimenting with style and tone. He wrote a fictional story, “Great Bugs of Onondaga,” which was published in the Syracuse Daily Standard and the New York Tribune. He quit school to pursue full-time writing. Stephen Crane wrote many publications during his life but his time as a writer was short-lived. At the age of twenty-eight, he contracted Tuberculosis and died.
The Red Badge of Courage
Known for its realism, “The Red Badge of Courage” happens to be one of Stephen Crane’s most valuable works. The plot of the story revolves around soldiers and emotions within two days of fighting in the course of the Civil War. The characters in the story are Henry Fleming, Jim Conklin, The tattered soldier, and Wilson. What’s more, is that, with respect to setting Stephen Crane never talks about the date or place where the war occurs (Hutchinson 43).
As the second novel of the author, it is notable that “The Red Badge of Courage” won Stephen Crane international fame. His vision of life as warfare is artistically jotted down in this summarized, basically plotless novel. Many a time compared to an impressionist painting, “The Red Badge of Ocurage” is a series of vivid episodes where a very young soldier known as Henry Fleming, is faced with a scale of feelings-fear, humility, courage, and pride –in his futile attempt to decipher his battle experiences. Within the context of the novel, Henry Fleming is representative of the “Everyman” of war. Literary efforts by Stephen Crane as evidenced by this novel make use of a narrative perspective that distinctively offers both an objective view of the war together with the more subjective impressions of the young soldier. Given that he had never gone to war by the time he was writing “The Red Badge of Courage”, Crane made a claim that his source for the precise descriptions of combat was inspired by the football field; when he finally experienced fighting as a correspondent of war, he commented of the novel, “It was all right.”
Maggie: A Girl of the Streets
Stephen Crane’s short novel titled “Maggie: A Girl of the Streets” is not just about the character Maggie but brings into play, directly, the Bowery environment – where he, Crane, lived – and the impact it had on the lives of its respective inhabitants. As a dweller of the same place, he witnessed firsthand the miseries the residents were subjected to and thus, he introduces us to a number of young boys engaged in a brawl, including Maggie’s brother Jimmy. Crane portrays Maggie’s family as a squalid, chaotic house with their parents’ staunch alcoholics and the children left to fend for themselves (Crane 38).
Alcoholism, gender inequality and social class are themes used by Crane to vividly bring out the case of Maggie and her attempt to lead her life. It is worth noting that the brevity of Stephen Crane’s work should not only be viewed as a romantic and melodramatic novel but as a mirror that attempts to reflect the society of Bowery and the archetypical characters that would be present therein (Anggiarini 55).
The Open Boat
One of the finest stories ever told, Stephen Crane’s “The Open Boat” employs a theme of cosmic irony via the use of symbols for indifference, insignificance and isolation. Based on his real life experience while traversing the sea, Crane portrays insignificance of man when compared to the universe. The ocean represents the power of the universe while the boat represents the power of man.
On the surface, “The open Boat” is a carefully and objectively recapped story of four men on a lifeboat and should not be considered exactly as an epigraph. The ending confirms what Crane tries to portray – the superiority of the universe. As Billie the oiler dies, he is depicted struggling to defeat nature using physical strength while the rest employ the use of logic, sense and reason. “The Open Boat” is simple with a clear and concise prose that can be followed – a typical Stephen Crane’s work (Hongo 23).
Lasting Legacy of Stephen Crane
Stephen Crane was considered a naturalist. As a writer, Crane proved to be an inspiration to the next numerous generations of writers. He had a great knowledge of human nature that showed through with his realism, that is, he told everything as it was. Many have applauded Stephen Crane as a journalist that had a specialty in rough on-the-reporting, an author of stories and sketches and was many a time considered an avant-garde poet (Gibson 52). When he was still alive and well, the writing life of Stephen Crane was earmarked by a desire to embrace risks and create artistic works. Many of Stephen Crane’s supporters affirm that he had a desire to give all that he had to the world regarding literature, but this very desire was many a time tempered or diverted through the exigencies of making ends meet. These very exhibitions by lovers of Stephen Crane’s works explore the struggles by Crane to achieve his poetic goals in the confines of the literary marketplace.
When it comes to matters of short stories, as in a majority of his works, Stephen Crane can be regarded as a consummate ironist, making use of a method that a majority of critics constantly find suggestive of the difference between a person’s awareness of reality and reality as it really exists. Clearly it can be noted that commentators generally had an agreement that many a time Crane overlooked character delineation and plot in his work and that he was not able to maintain sustenance of longer works of fiction. In conclusion, it is worth stating that irrespective of his small mistakes in writing, Stephen Crane’s artistry lied in his ability to pass on a personal vision grounded upon his personal sense of integrity. In doing so, he pioneered a conventional form of fiction that succeeded genteel Realism of 19th century American literature.
Anggiarini, Utami. “American Social Condition In The Late Of 19th Century Found In Spephen’s Crane Maggie: A Girl Of The Streets.” American Social Condition In The Late Of 19th Century Found In Spephen’s Crane Maggie: A Girl Of The Streets.
Crane, Stephen. Maggie: A girl of the streets. Broadview Press, 2006.
Crane, Stephen. The Open Boat. Vol. 46. Lulu. com, 2016.
Gibson, Donald B. The Fiction of Stephen Crane. Southern Illinois University Press, 1968.
Hongo, Garrett. “The Open Boat.” Poems from Asian America. New York: Anchor (1993).
Hutchinson, Emily, and Stephen Crane. “The Red Badge of Courage.” (1999).