Steven Crane's Role In The Literary Revolution And An Analysis Of The Red Badge Of Courage

1117 words - 4 pages

If it takes a revolutionary to topple the general way of thinking, Stephen Crane is that revolutionary for American literature. The dominant literary movement before Crane’s time, Romanticism, originated in Germany and England as a response to classicism and soon dispersed worldwide. (McKay 766). Romanticism stressed the power of the human conscience and the intensity of emotion. It was essentially a spiritual movement, fiercely conflicting with the rigid rules and standards of classicism and the restraint of the Enlightenment. The belief that all humans embodied a unique greatness was widespread. Further along in history, however, came a man who sought to destroy this confident idea from his despondent circumstances. Disenchanted by the strict upbringing of his religious family and eager to attack the traditional Romantic Movement, Stephen Crane’s The Red Badge of Courage utilizes universal literary philosophies to dismantle the traditional confidence in human morality.

Born into a pious, conservative family with a Methodist minister and the daughter of a clergyman as parents, it is no wonder that Crane would turn away from the religious orthodoxy of his household and the conventional norms of his time (Szumski 13). Understanding his childhood and upbringing is vital to grasp why Crane would create a work of literature so contradictory with others of its time. Crane’s mother was an active participant of the temperance movement and president of two chapters of the Women’s Christian Temperance Union (Szumski 13). She also contributed reports on religious events in the community (Szumski 13). Crane’s father held an important position in the Methodist Church; he later lost it as a result of rebelling and denouncing Methodism’s embrace of the Holiness Movement (Szumski 13). It may have been very likely that Crane’s paternal influences fueled his future dissent. Crane’s literary skills were also influenced from a very early age; his brother was a newspaper columnist who lived with him at home during his youth (Szumski 14). Similarly, his parents were “educated and civic minded, used to making persuasive speeches, admirers and cultivators of the spoken word” (Szumski 14). Even while being raised in an environment with such high moral expectations, Crane soon displayed signs of independence. He dropped out of Methodist boarding school to attend a military academy, where he developed an interest for “poker and baseball,” according to colleague Harvey Wickham (Szumski 14). Following a life path deviating more and more from his family’s traditionalist beliefs of faith and purity, it is clear that through these factors Crane would hone his literary skills to combat traditional norms.
Crane’s decision to write a story in a context (the Civil War) with which he had no experience showed that this stemmed from his desire to dissect the philosophy of individualism in a setting where no societal influences exist. The fact that he also does not mention the...

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