, Research Paper
STEVEN CRANE?S THE RED BADGE OF
COURAGE AFFECTED PUBLIC PERCEPTION OF THE CIVIL WAR?
Stephen Crane, (1871-1900), was an American novelist and poet, one of the first American writers 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, and the son of a Methodist minister, Crane began work in 1891, in New York City, as a freelance reporter in the slums. The job provided him with material for his first novel, Maggie, a Girl of the Streets written in 1893, a work that won praise from American writers Hamlin Garland and William Dean Howells?also naturalistic writers–but weren?t as popular or successful as Crane. Crane’s next novel, The Red Badge of Courage, written in 1895, and gained international recognition as a penetrating and realistic psychological study of a young soldier in the American Civil War. In addition to being a novelist, journalist, and short-story writer, Crane was also an innovator in free verse techniques (irregular verse).
Crane died at the age of twenty-eight and a half of tuberculosis. Although he died at such a young age his literature had a profound affect on the world. Thomas Beer points out The Red Badge of Courage as illustrating better than any of Crane?s works that his search for ?aesthetic was governed by terror and no one since Poe has evoked that emotion?(Haycraft and Kunitz 189). When Crane signed a contract with D. Appleton and Co. to publish The Red Badge of Courage, he was not well-known enough to command an advance, and agreed to a flat 10 per cent royalty on the retail price of all copies sold (McPherson, 5). Published in the autumn of 1895, the book went through two editions before the end of the year. By March of 1896 the novel was in eighth place on the international booksellers’ list and had gone through fourteen printings; remarkably enough, it has never been out of print (6). Unfortunately, contracts with publishers and a general lack of good business sense kept Crane poor for much of his life. But with the publication of The Red Badge of Courage, Crane achieved almost overnight celebrity. Although Crane did run into criticism, one of the biggest was the Dial controversy (Angel 98).
The Dial was a publication run by a former Brigadier General in the Union army, George McClurg, who spearheaded accusations about The Red Badge of Courage portraying the Union soldier as being a coward. However, Dial editor William Payne had already made evident the magazine’s disapproval of the book, McClurg maintained that Payne’s opinion had not been unfavorable enough. Criticizing those English and American reviewers who had praised The Red Badge of Courage, McClurg fumed at what he saw as another installment in the habitual English ridicule of American soldiers. Mistakenly assuming that Crane’s novel had been first published in England, McClurg denounced it as a “vicious satire upon American soldiers and American armies,” as part of a plot to undermine confidence in the nation’s armed forces (Mitchell 15). McClurg exclaimed that books of this nature should not be published or allowed in the United States (Mitchell 10-15).
The first response to General McClurg’s accusations came in a letter from J.L. Onderdonk, who, concurred his agreement with McClurg’s position and ridiculed the book as a “literary absurdity.” In the same issue of the Dial, Ripley Hitchcock writes to the editors on behalf of the publishers of the novel, D. Appleton & Co. In an underlying tone which contrasted with McClurg’s condemning article, Hitchcock points out and corrects some of the General’s mistakes while reminding readers of the numerous favorable points brought out by the novel. English critic Sydney Brooks, who had earlier praised The Red Badge of Courage in the Saturday Review, wrote to the Dial in defense of Crane’s novel. Brooks dismissed McClurg’s speculating condemnations about English opinion of the novel as “misjudged patriotism and bad criticism,” Brooks then points out that McClurg’s notion of literary standards constituted a form of censorship which would only allow the most celebratory accounts of American life to be published (16). The good sense of Brooks’ letter ended the Dial controversy and left The Red Badge of Courage intact. However, Stephen Crane and his book would encounter many more controversies from the patriotic finger pointers in America (Mitchell 15-20).
Early reviews raised three issues that remained a central issue surrounding the book. First, there is Crane’s concern with authenticity. ?Written in a post-photographic age, The Red Badge of Courage discards contemporaneous conventions of battlefield prose for a discontinuous succession of flashing images that yield photographic revelations (Sweet 52).? ?Crane limits the novel’s point of view and fragments its narrative in order to focus the impact of each of his “battle pictures” and make us see the truth of his description (53).? Second, although much of General McClurg’s commentary about The Red Badge of Courage?s lack of patriotism, for example, is overheated and irrelevant, he was not entirely wrong to suggest that Crane’s novel raised potentially uneasy questions about the state of American society at the turn of the century (62). And finally, while Crane’s early critics did not realize the book is set at the Civil War battle of Chancellorsville, scholarly inquiry has revealed this to be the case. “The Battle, Chancellorsville, suggests that Crane drew on literary and pictorial sources in order to establish the factual framework of Chancellorsville as the setting for The Red Badge of Courage (63).
The Red Badge of Courage’s affect on the American people was one of naturalism of life, what can happen to someone inside during a pivotal moment or section of their life. This book shows how each one of us can fear and that war is not all-big banners and tickertape parades (Nagal 81). This book shows the average American as he was, and tells the story from the working class?s perspective. During the turn of the century wealth was in uneven distribution, essentially leaving the poorer class to idolize the aristocratic populous of the country. The Red Badge of Courage depicted a young recruit under fire and told of his journey along the bloodied Civil War trail, which was uncharacteristic of previous literature and excepted by the masses (Bailey and Kennedy 586). Bettina Liebowitz Knapp in his books Stephen Crane: Criticism and Interpretation best describes Crane:
He was a rebel and a precursor of the creative spirits of the Lost Generation, the Best Generation, and the Absurdists. As Joseph Conrad wrote: ?his passage on this earth was like that of a horseman riding swiftly into the dawn of a day fated to be short and without sunshine.? (Knapp 4)
One would have to conclude that Stephen Crane was ahead of his time to be able to write such moving material at such a young age. It was as if he had experienced life in another time and wrote about it in his.
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