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Stephen Crane Research Paper Essay, Research Paper

Stephen Crane?s The Red Badge of Courage is a novel that reflects its time period and the style of its author to a great extent. Also, it was praised for its accuracy. Ironically, Crane lived after the civil war and never served in the military. Stephen Crane?s life is portrayed on the web site www.underthesun.cc:

Crane, Stephen (1871-1900), American novelist and poet, one of the first American exponents of the naturalistic style of writing. Crane is known for his pessimistic and often brutal portrayals of the human condition, but his stark realism is relieved by poetic charm and a sympathetic understanding of character.

Born in Newark, New Jersey, Crane was educated at Lafayette College and Syracuse University. In 1891 he began work in New York City as a freelance reporter in the slums. From his work and his own penniless existence in the Bowery he drew material for his first novel, Maggie, a Girl of the Streets (1893), which he published at his own expense under the pseudonym Johnston Smith. The work, the story of a young prostitute who commits suicide, won praise from the American writers Hamlin Garland and William Dean Howells but was not a popular success. Crane’s next novel, The Red Badge of Courage (1895), gained international recognition as a penetrating and realistic psychological study of a young soldier in the American Civil War (1861-1865).

Although Crane had never experienced military service, the understanding of the ordeals of combat that he revealed in this work compelled various American and foreign newspapers to hire him as a correspondent during the Greco-Turkish War (1897) and the Spanish-American War (1898). Shipwrecked while accompanying an expedition from the United States to Cuba in 1896, Crane suffered privations that eventually brought on tuberculosis. His experience was the basis for the title story of his collection The Open Boat and Other Stories (1898). Crane settled in England in 1897; his private life, which included several extramarital affairs, had caused gossip in the United States. In England he was befriended by the writers Joseph Conrad and Henry James.

In addition to being a novelist, journalist, and short-story writer, Crane was also an innovator in verse techniques. His two volumes of poetry, The Black Riders and Other Lines (1895) and War Is Kind and Other Poems (1899), are important early examples of experimental free verse. His other writings include Active Service (1899), Whilomville Stories (1900), and Wounds in the Rain (1900). Crane’s collected letters were published in 1954. [?About Stephen Crane?]

The main character in Crane?s Red Badge of Courage is Henry Fleming. Against his mother?s wishes, Henry enlists in the 304th Regiment of New York Volunteers, spends boring months of training and restless waiting, and looks forward to taking part in a real Civil War battle. Henry often wonders how he will act his first battle. He is unsure whether he will stand and fight or if he will run. The opposing armies meet in several skirmishes, and Henry finally experiences battle. At this point, against the brutal struggle between the Union and the Confederacy, Crane sets another conflict: the internal struggle within Henry. Feeling he is faced with the risk of his live, Henry flees during the second skirmish of the first day?s battle. He becomes quite ashamed of himself. Next day Henry returns to the front. During this battle, he distinguishes himself. He retrieves his army?s colors from the dying Union flag-bearer, urges his comrades on, and is proclaimed a hero by officers and enlisted men.

Stephen Crane?s style was naturalism, a school of literary thought in which the environment, rather than individual, determines the outcome of characters’ lives. Naturalists believe that the novelist should be like the scientist, examining dispassionately various phenomena in life and drawing indisputable conclusions. The naturalists tended to concern themselves with the harsh, often sordid, aspects of life. Naturalism was popular in the late 1800?s. Donald Pizer suggests specific changes in subject matter and characterization, which help in defining Naturalism as different from Realism:

1. The subject matter:

a. The subject matter deals with those raw and unpleasant experiences which reduce characters to “degrading” behavior in their struggle to survive. These characters are mostly from the lower middle or the lower classes – they are poor, uneducated, and unsophisticated.

b. The milieu is the commonplace and the unheroic; life is usually the dull round of daily existence. But the naturalist discovers those qualities in such characters usually associated with the heroic or adventurous – acts of violence and passion leading to desperate moments and violent death. The suggestion is that life on its lowest levels is not so simple as it seems to be.

c. There is discussion of fate and “hubris” that affect a character; generally the controlling force is society and the surrounding environment.

2. The concept of a naturalistic character:

a. characters are conditioned and controlled by environment, heredity, chance, or instinct; but they have compensating humanistic values which affirm their individuality and life – their struggle for life becomes heroic and they maintain human dignity.

b. the Naturalists attempt to represent the intermingling in life of the controlling forces and individual worth. They do not dehumanize their characters. [http://www.csustan.edu/english/reuben/pal/chap6/6intro.html]

The novel fits Pizer?s classification of Naturalism. Henry comes from a poor background. He grew up on a farm. The unpleasant experiences that degrade henry are what he sees on the battlefield. He sees blood, he hears the cries of those who are wounded and dying, and, most importantly, he witnesses the death of many of his friends. An example of the degradation caused by these experiences is when he deserts his friend Jimmie Rogers, who was mortally wounded. The story fits the characteristic that the milieu is the commonplace because the setting at the beginning of the novel is the military base and it is not very eventful. Henry is largely influenced by his environment. The battlefield makes him more aggressive and less compassionate. The naturalistic characteristics of this novel agree with the thoughts of many philosophers of the late nineteenth century. Stephen Crane?s Red Badge of Courage very well reflects the time period in which it was written.

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