Essay, Research Paper: Stephen Crane

Literature: Civil War

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Paper based on Stephen Crane's works How do we grow up through the hardships of
live? What can a stressful environment bring out in human? And how do you
perceive a society between the reality and the myth? As a naturalism and realism
writer, Stephen Crane creates vivid characters in his stories. We might find
answers of these questions from Crane's three representative works, "The
Red Badge of Courage", "The Open Boat" and "The Blue
Hotel". Adolescence brings about many changes as a youth becomes an adult.
For many people this passage is either tedious or painful, or simple and barely
noticeable. In "The Red Badge of Courage", the character Henry Fleming
survives the Civil War, which serves as his rite of passage as it teaches him
the importance of things such as dreams, companionship, individualism, dignity
and, of course, courage. At first, Henry is determined and eager to fight in
war, which is his dream and goal. From all the tales told by others of fighting
and glory, he can not help but idolize the duty of the soldier and aspire to
become the very same soldier. Unfortunately, his dreams are virtually shattered
time again as the fight on in the battle. Eventually, Henry is faced with the
ultimate enemy - himself. He begins to doubt his own self-confidence and wonders
weather he will stay and fight or run then faced with death and war at the
battlefields. "He experimented with many schemes, but threw them aside one
by one as flimsy" (Crane, 65). Those "schemes" suggest the
constant dilemma experienced by most adolescents, which would be conformity,
peer pressure, and acceptance. Henry eventually flees from the scene, reexamines
himself and his thoughts, and musters up the courage to return to the
battlefield. This is part of growing up - facing your fears and giving it
another shot. The death of John Conklin teaches Henry the importance of
companionship and its limits, which play an important part in anyone's life as
friends are one of life's greatest treasures. Towards the end of the story,
Henry discards the expectations of his peers and declares his individuality and
courage by seizing the flag from the dead color sergeant and waving it in front
of the regiment. He risks being shot at - as he is an easy target - and thus
displays his courage deep down within his soul. "He himself felt the daring
spirit of a savage religion-mad…There were subtle flashings of joy within him
that thus should be his mind" (Crane, 118). His reaching out for the flag
proves to himself that he is just as brave and courageous as those soldiers
those stories dazzles him as a boy. He is that very soldier. If the tribulation
builds up Henry's courage, then it reveals human dignity in "The Open
Boat". At numerous times during the story, an anonymous man will grieve and
ponder over the idea that death is a great possibility for those in the boat.
The reader never learns who the speaker is, which turn becomes an
"everyman" issue. All are feeling this sense of hopelessness, or one
man is speaking for everyone. Crane uses the quote "If I am going to be
drowned - if I am going to be drowned…" as a tool to exhibit human
dignity in the boat. For at least three times during the story,
"everyman" despairs and cries out for this mercy. If the man on the
boat did not admit their fears, we would think they were all courageous heroes.
It is obvious they are merely human. The men in the boat have worked together as
a team, almost as if they know they can only survive s a team. Like clockwork,
they switch rowing shifts to let others sleep. They are considerate to each
other and respectful. Yet, when it comes down to their personal feelings,
isolation takes over. "If I am going to be drowned… why was I allowed to
come thus far the contemplate sand and trees?" (Crane, 293). That statement
emphasizes a certain part of our humanity that calls for complete mercy. It's
almost as if the gods are taunting the men on the boat. Finally it comes the
moment that they meet the land, all the man are in the water and try to swim to
the shore. All are saved by the mercy that they pray for, except oiler Billy. At
this point, Crane might hint that fate is inevitable, and no one can get away
from his/her destiny. Everyone's final destiny is death. And the death could be
determined by externality (e.g. nature), or internality (like one's belief).
Throughout much of the late 1800s and well into 1900s, stories of the life and
settlement of the West have held a strong fascination for the American, and even
all over the world. These stories were often times highly exaggerated and
sensationalized and usually provided more myth than fact. In "The Blue
Hotel", we can see the Swede, a character who has strong misconceptions of
the West which he created from reading few too many dime novel stories, and how
Crane parodies this misconception with how the characters act in the hotel. The
story starts with the three men: the cowboy, Easterner and Swede. At the
beginning, the Swede acts rather timidity, and distorts the reality of the hotel
as full of romances of chivalry. The Swede's obsession with what he believes the
West is like and how the characters act believe his delusions, and when he looks
as if he expects to be assaulted, he is responding to an atmosphere of books, a
Western setting of violence that has no relevance. Then the martyr-like Swede
then is convinced that everyone is against him. "These men are going to
kill me" (Crane, 330), he is irrational threatened by his own overactive
imagination. After winning the fight with Jonnie, the Swede turns into a totally
different person. He becomes arrogant and aggressive. Unfortunately, the Swede
runs into the "real West" - the saloon and gets killed there. Although
the world of the saloon at he end of the story more accurately depicts the
Western world in the Swede's mind, the blue hotel lies in stark contrast to the
"Western reality", where the Swede's mythic preconceptions about the
West discover more reality than in what has passed for actuality in the hotel.
At the end, the Easterner comments "Every sin is the result of a
collaboration" (Crane, 354), he considers five of them are responsible for
the death of the Swede. But it seems the main determinant is the Swede's
irrational beliefs. In conclusion, Crane paint a brilliant picture of this
hostile, brutal world through the exploration of responsibility, guilt, dignity,
repentance…etc. Therefore, we read to find that we are not alone.

Crane, Stephen. The Red Badge of Courage. The Open Boat. The Blue Hotel.
"Great Short Works of Stephen Crane". New York: Perennial Library,
1999. 3-126, 277-302, 325-354.
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