Stephen Crane gained international renown through his book “The Red Badge of Courage”, which he wrote was published in 1985 when he was only 24 years old. This novel portrayed the American society during the Civil War. His father was Jonathan T. Crane, a member of the Methodist clergy and his mother is Mary Helen Peck Crane, who died when he was still young. He was born in Newark, New Jersey as the fourteenth child of his parents. Stephen Crane witnessed how his sisters and brothers died. Such experiences could have led him to portray violence in his fictional works. Four years after the death of his mother, her elder sister, Agnes, died because of meningitis. A year after, his brother Luther died of a railroad related accident. He was introduced to the world of writing when one of his siblings, Townley, gave him an opportunity to write about several activities of Ocean Front resort community. Because of his sharp criticism of the practices of the upper class, he lost his job along with his brother. His first novel, “Maggie: A Girl of the Streets” was published through the money he inherited from his mother (Vanouse, 2004).
Stephen Crane’s life and writing career is very interesting. For one, the success of “The Red Badge of Courage” is phenomenal and upon first reading, it appears as if Crane, himself, was there to witness the horrors and scenes of war. Surprisingly, he did not personally witness the war! Rather, he relied on interviews and first hand accounts of the war and reconstructed their accounts in order for him to create vivid scenes and moving portrayals. He was only 28 when he died of tuberculosis. Such an early death seems to be a waste of talent. If he lived longer, he could have written more and employed his writing skills in analyzing and criticizing the society he lived in. His background is also interesting. His father is a Methodist minister. The initial expectation would be for him to be conservative and would tend to follow the faith and example of his father. His works, however would belie this initial example (Vanouse, 2004).
H.G. Wells’ tribute to Crane
A lot of people mourned the demise of Stephen Crane and not only his family. One of them was H. G. Wells, the renowned writer of science fiction and fantasy who has developed a close friendship with the author. The tribute of H. G. Wells was written more than a hundred years ago, yet it is timeless in expounding on the contributions of Crane to literature as well as to the person of Crane, himself.
Wells (1900) praised the newness and the power of the literary method of Crane, which was eventually called naturalism or realism. He considered Crane’s method as a fresh breath into the literary world of English speaking countries and hailed his imagination for being vigorous. Moreover, it broke away from several traditions endemic in the literary world of that time. “It was a new thing, in a new school” (Wells, 1900, p. 234). Crane’s pen effectively eliminated trivial information from his prose and fiction and instead worked towards the presentation of elements and “impression”.
Wells (1900) also described rather poignantly how Crane sat down and wrote his pieces. He said that Crane can sit down at home with only his mind conjuring scenes and acts of war, digging records of interviews and observations from his memory and have these thoughts and ideas translated into words by his pen as it writes on the paper. Wells also drew attention to a funny attitude of Crane – he is a bad traveler. He loses his trains as well as his luggage, miss connecting trips even in the absence of disturbing wars. Crane went to Greece and to Cuba as correspondent for war. These experiences contributed to the deterioration of his health. When he was on his way back from Cuba, the boat he was riding was shipwrecked. True to his calling to be a writer, he wrote about the experience and produced the short story “The Open Boat”.
The reception to short stories, however, was on the decline during that period. As a result, the shorter works of Crane was not received very well by readers and critics alike, and he was encouraged to stop writing shorter pieces. Although, his health was failing, crane continued to write incessantly and produce works of fiction, war stories as well as engage in his journalistic work. On top of all these, he also experimented in writing poetry (Wells, 1900).
Wells did not engage in the futile effort of trying to rank Crane on top of his contemporaries and colleagues. Rather he argued that Crane, prior to his early death, has left a very distinguishing mark in the landscape of English literature. His influence was important and that his writings will be sewn onto the fabric of literature for all time. The way that he wrote about war was praiseworthy, his descriptions vivid and profound, yet never did he expound on the reasons and justifications why those wars were fought. Wells concluded by declaring that Crane has opened up a new era of literature by recording impressions tinged with vigor and intensity (Wells, 1900).
The Lighter Side of Crane: “The Bride Comes to Yellow Sky” as Comedy
Tibbetts (1965) has noted that a lot of critics and readers have regarded “The Bride Comes to Yellow Sky” as an allegory. Tibbetts, argued instead that it should be read as a comedy in order to fully appreciate its impact. Several authors have put forward allegorical interpretations of what the story means. One author, for example, regarded the marshal and the badman to be representations of idealism and stark realism on other extreme. Others viewed the story as a representation of the conflict between the cultures of Eastern and Western countries. The author drew attention to the style of writing employed by Crane. He argued that such a style was utilized in order to put several layers of meaning in his writing and discourage simple and shallow readers from getting the real message of the story.
If Crane’s writing were analyzed, it can be observed that he used exaggerations as well as understatements in order to expound on his stories and ideas. On a deeper note, it appears that Crane viewed life as a long struggle and trick. What sets him apart, however, is his effective use of imagery and metaphor. Another possible reason for misreading Crane is his reputation for writing on “serious” topics and tragedies, which, more often than not, were infused with “dark meaning”. Yet, “The Bride..” is still a comedy that should be enjoyed and should be read “too deeply” (Tibbetts, 1965).
The story is all about the town marshal and how he endeavored to bring his wife to Yellow Sky, a border town of Texas. It is a western story, and probably one of the best during its time. The story has four parts. The first one deals with the relationship of Jack with his wife, whose name was not given in the story. Perhaps her namelessness was meant to show that she is not very important in the story except for being Jack’s wife. The couple was on board a train and became self-conscious. As a result, they were made fun of by several passengers in the train. Jack and his wife eventually alighted from the train and walks toward his home. Crane then showed the state of the town through the six men who were drinking at the bar. One of those men, Scratchy, used to be an adversary of Jack. Perhaps because of drunkenness and old atrocities, Scratchy issues challenges and shoots the saloon door and a dog. Later he challenges Jack for a duel. Jack, however, declined his challenge. Then the subtly funny episode between Scratchy and Jack ensued. When Jack was already pressed for an answer why he was not answering Scratchy’s challenge, he simply answered that he was married. Scratchy then walks away, thinking and considering that his western practices are over (Erskine, 2007).
The story symbolizes the end of the western era and the increasing encroachment of civilization to a frontier town, which is Yellow Sky. Jack, being a part of the community, represents a kind of break from tradition. He was presented as a person who takes himself seriously and who is thoughtful in what he does. In bringing his wife to the town, he appears to have betrayed the practices he used to have with his friends in the town. Although he appears to take himself too seriously, the comedy in the story is the way that Scratchy held himself and how he showed his provincialism and lack of erudition.
Stephen Crane can be regarded as a trailblazer in literature. During his time, his writing started shaping English literature towards a new direction. His peers have had great perceptions of his work. One of these peers is H. G. Wells, who praised Crane for eliminating trivial details from his prose and incorporating only the important aspects in developing his stories. He also hailed the imagination of Crane and the way that he created war stories not out of actual experiences but out of interviews and second hand sources. Nonetheless, Crane was effective in portraying war and its various aspects. Crane, however, was not a totally serious writer. Yes, he was keenly observant and did not allow any particular aspect of society and history to go unnoticed. He also managed to write on the lighter side. In spite of the way that various authors and critics read “The Bride Comes to Yellow Sky”, he managed to depict an aspect of western culture that was about to be phased out, rather comically, instead of seriously. This multi-faceted talent of Crane lends credence to his contributions to literature. Truly, he was one genius who paved the way for other writers to further develop English literature.
At first impression, Crane might be expected to become conservative because of his family background and with his father as a Methodist clergyman. Yet, such a conservative background did not prevent him from exploring various aspects of reality and society without regard for what the church might say or what his father might say. He freely experimented with his form and style and as Wells proclaimed, he broke away from tradition in order to pursue his own style. Such a display of individualism is admirable and perhaps one of the shapers of American culture. For even though society is important to an individual, it is still the individual who sets his own course, just as what Crane has shown. Too bad he died young.
Erskine, T. L. (2007). The Bride Comes to Yellow Sky: An Analysis. Retrieved 31 May 2007 from http://members.tripod.com/studies/ENGL2328/bride_yellow_sky.htm.
Tibbetts, A. M. (1965). Stephen Crane’s “The Bride Comes to Yellow Sky”. The English Journal, 54 (4), 314-316.
Vancouse, D. (2004). Stephen Crane. The Literary Encyclopedia. Retrieved 31 May 2007 from http://www.litencyc.com/php/speople.php?rec=true&UID=1060.
Wells, H. G. (1900). Stephen Crane. From an English Standpoint. North American Review Publishing Company, 171 (525), 233-242.