The metamorphosis of the drunkard in selected fiction of Stephen Crane

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Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University

Although Stephen Crane developed out of an ancestral and moral chemistry that might have produced a minister rather than a writer, he abandoned the letter, though not the spirit, of his parents' Methodism. Crane's studies of society, Maggie and George's Mother, are works of a writer who expresses a viewpoint through a concentrated moral vision. In these works Crane's major target was the drunkard, and particularly, the hypocrisy, the moral weakness, and the capacity for destruction embodied in the nature of this character. But Crane seemed to be imposing his views upon his material, dramatizing predetermined assessments of man and society; thus we detect most clearly in his early work the outlines of the Christian minister. Crane soon realized, however, that preaching could be fatal to literature.

Later Crane was to travel in the American West and, as a result of his experiences there, an awareness, a perception of reality occurred in Crane's writing that had not been present in the earlier works. No longer would Crane's characters be controlled by his personal vision of reality, so severely restricted by his moralistic viewpoint. Through his exposure to the very new and different Western society, Crane would change his conception of the drunkard and adopt a more objective view of reality. No longer would the drunkard take on the one-dimensional characteristics of a temperance-novel character, but would mature with Crane's new vision into a cleverly developed literary device.