Stephen Crane - Biography
Stephen Crane (1871-1900)
by Karen Bernardo
Stephen Crane has been called the first modern American writer, and there is good reason for that claim. Born in
New Jersey six years after the Civil War, he was descended from a long line of pastors, but he rejected traditional
Christianity very early in life. He was undoubtedly a disappointment to his parents on other grounds as well;
although he attended Claverack College, the Hudson River Institute, Lafayette College, and Syracuse University, he
never graduated from any of them. His fiction, which was distinctly different from anything being published at the
time, was initially self-published, and he spent his entire life riddled by debt.
Crane's fiction is frequently considered an American example of the French literary school of naturalism, which
holds, among other tenets, that human beings are fundamentally animals without free will. The name naturalism
refers to this law of nature under which human beings are believed to operate; a naturalist writer explains man in
terms of the hereditary or environmental forces that operate upon him, and disavows any significant effect of man's
will or ambition upon the outcomes of his life. Naturalism, in addition, holds that nothing is good or bad, right
or wrong, moral or immoral, it just is. People are not good or evil, simply survivors or victims of the great
forces that move them along like motes in the air or dead leaves in a stream. Thus, what will be will be, and there
is little anyone can do.
Despite this, there is no question that Crane had an enormous sympathy for the poor and downtrodden. This is
reflected in novels such as Maggie, Girl of the Streets and one of the short stories discussed here, "The
Men in the Storm." He was also fascinated with the reactions of human beings battling for their lives against
overwhelming forces of nature, and we see this illustrated in "The Open Boat." But he is undoubtedly best known
today for his novel The Red Badge of Courage, which powerfully debunked the idea of the glory of war.
Crane died in Germany in 1900, desperately poor, his body ravaged by malaria and tuberculosis. He was only
twenty-eight years old. Yet, given the fact that his published works were all produced in less than a decade, he
left behind an astonishing number of stories and novels -- which deserve to be more widely read today.
Read Storybites' analysis of...
The Open Boat
The Men in the
These stories can be found in the collection "The Best Short Stories of Stephen
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