Subject Material

Stephen Crane - An American Naturalist

Published: 29.11.2012, Updated: 04.03.2017
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During the Victorian period, the writers wanted to display reality and to “tell it like it is”. The gloomy aspects of urban life and the harsh conditions for exploited factory workers were common elements in Victorian literature. As the century was coming to an end, there were many writers who took their realistic project even further, and wanted to show how man’s existence was a struggle against forces beyond his control, and how a grim reality brought out degrading and evil sides of his own nature.

Stephen Crane and Naturalism

Stephen CraneStephen Crane
Fotograf: The Granger Collection
It is said about Stephen Crane (1871-1899) that he was a born writer, and like so many novelists and poets, he started his writing career as a journalist. But reporting and literature are different things, so his employers were not satisfied with his descriptive and “literary” journalism; they wanted straight facts and not sense impressions. So Crane devoted his writing to his literary project, and his debut was “Maggie: A Girl of the Streets” (1893): a somber story set in the poverty-ridden backstreets of New York City and Ashbury Park, New Jersey, where street-walkers (like Maggie), pimps, criminals and alcoholics were struggling to get by in a rough reality. And for a couple of years, Crane lived there, among the outcasts and misfits of the established society, and felt the same destitution and hopelessness.
This is a typical naturalist scene – the setting is dark and ugly, and the characters are like puppets that don’t stand a chance up against their surroundings and the brutal forces of nature.
Stephen Crane’s break-through came with “The Red Badge of Courage” (1895), which was an immediate success. It is one of the most famous American novels about the Civil War, focusing on the fate of the desperate soldiers at the Battle of Chancellorsville. As the title indicates, Crane questions the ideals of heroism and courage. The technique is the same as in “Maggie”: Crane describes the soldiers as being sacrificed as pawns in a game which was completely beyond their control. For a young writer with no war experience, it is an achievement to write a novel that is acclaimed by veterans and goes down in literary history as a standard work in American war literature. The book has also been filmed.
Stephen Crane led a short and hectic life; he died of tuberculosis at the age of 28. His writing was in trend with European naturalism. In America, Stephen Crane was before his time, but paved the way for upcoming naturalist writers like Theodore Dreiser and, later, Ernest Hemingway.

Follow the link and read The Bride Comes to Yellow Sky , a short story by Stephen Crane.