Stephen Crane: Contribution to American Literature

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      Stephen Crane (1871-1900), born in Newark, New Jersey, had his family roots going back to the period of Revolutionary War - the soldiers, clergymen, sheriffs, judges, and farmers who had lived a century earlier. He was the son of a Methodist minister. After leaving High school, he moved to New York city and worked a journalist to Tribune and Herald before starting on his first novel. Primarily a journalist who also wrote fiction, essays, poetry and plays, Crane saw life at its rawest, in slums and on battlefields. Besides these two most important novels Crane’s Maggie: A Girl of the Streets and The Red Badge of Courage. He published The Little Regiment (1896; a collection of short stories and The Third Violet (1897), a short novel. In 1986 he traveled to the south west to Mexico and also to Cuba. On his journey back he was ship wrecked, spent nearly three days on a open boat. Of this experience, he published a collection The Open Boat and Other Stories (1898).

      In 1897, Stephen Crane with his companion Cora Taylor traveled to Greece where he served as war correspondent. Because his crisis in the health, he had to return to England where he met Joseph Conrad and Henry James, two of his most distinguished admirers. Out of the experience of Greco-Turkish War, he published the novel Active Service (1899). To cover the Spanish-American War, he went to Cuba and again was obliged to return because of his poor health. His short stories - in particular, “The Blue Hotel,” and “The Bride Comes to Yellow Sky” - exemplified that particular literary form. His haunting Civil War novel, The Red Badge of Courage, was published to great acclaim in 1895. Though only his second novel, it established Cooper’s fame in the critical and literary circles. It is set during the Civil War, and the frightening realities of the battle are violently contrasted with the heroic ideals of conventional war narratives. Edgar for glory, Henry Fleming enlists in the Union army. His expectations are disappointed by his first encounters with the enemy in which his fellow soldiers retreat and he receives a head wound from the butt of a gun when he grabs a deserter to ask for an explanation. He is temporarily proud of his own bravery, but during a second encounter with the enemy, he is overcome by fear and flees from the battle into the forest. There he attempts to find solace in Nature but fails to justify his desertion in his own eyes. After coming across the spectral figure of a dying soldier, he becomes enraged by the injustices of war. He returns to the lines of fire with wounded, marked by the ‘red badge’ of a soldier who has fought but does not tell anyone how received his wound. Back with his regiment, in the heat of the battle, he automatically picks up the regiment’s colors when they fell from another's hands. But he can no longer be proud if his own heroism. He is filled with guilt and haunted by the memory of the ‘tattered’ soldier, a wounded man who was deserted on the battlefield. This novel was a critical and popular success when it first appeared. In his pointillist style, he captures the flux and confusion of the battle. Many of his scenes are set in the foggy and misty landscape at night or in the smoke of the battle and the vivid science offers Crane’s view of war and life. Clearly, he draws an ironic contrast between the romance and reality of the battle, the heroic fate of Fleming anticipates for himself and the horrible futility; the fear and the feelings of cowardice he experiences. Fleming himself witnesses the mass retreat of his fellow soldiers. The earthy subject matter and his objective, scientific style, devoid of moralizing, earmark Maggie as a naturalist work.

      Crane barely had time to bask in the attention before he died at 29, having neglected his health. He was virtually forgotten during the first two decades of the 20th century but was resurrected through a laudatory biography by Thomas Beer in 1923. He has enjoyed continued success ever since - as a champion of the common man, a realist, and a symbolist. Maggie: A Girl of the Streets (1893) is one of the best, if not the earliest, naturalistic American novels. It is the harrowing story of Maggie Johnson, a poor, sensitive young girl whose uneducated, alcoholic parents utterly fail her in love and eager to be seduced into living with a young man, who soon deserts her. When her self-righteous mother rejects her, Maggie becomes a prostitute to survive but soon commits suicide out of despair. The novel in fact combines a trenchant determinism with a sharp, even satiric critique of the false morality of those “many excellent people” who condemn her for those circumstances for she is not responsible.

      His poetry was collected in The Black Rider (1895) and War is Kind (1900). The sketches and stories from his life as a cop respondent are in Wounds in the Rain (1900) and Whilomville Stories (1900).

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