Stephen Crane's The Monster as the Most Important work of short fiction written before 1900

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“At once a children’s tale, a grim social satire, an ambitious study of ethical responsibility, a painful examination of race in America, a devastating account of the village virus…” “The Monster” by Stephen Crane, has been interpreted as the most significant work of short fiction written before 1900. It is a compilation of different issues used to highlight the racist attitudes and xenophobia evident in the USA after slavery was abolished in 1863. Despite the fictional plot, the views of the white population of Whilomville are based on fact, as the racist feelings were still palpable evinced by derogatory terms such as “Negro”. Along with the race struggle, social satire is apparent, as evidently the story is classified as Southern Gothic. With a Gothic overtone Crane is able to explore the satirical society in which the story is set, to delve into concerns of social satire, ethical responsibility, race struggles and the “village virus”. Throughout “The Monster”, Crane exemplifies the social hypocrisy and identifies this as an issue in contemporary society. Before Henry became “frightfully seared”, he was high in social status. This is portrayed through descriptions of the towns-people of Whilomville, which is place loosely based on Crane’s childhood hometown of Port Jervis, New Jersey. He was a “well-bred gentleman”, who was constantly given “quiet admonitions and compliments”. Miss Bella Farragut exclaimed that “Misteh Johnsing” was simply “divine”, as they were soon to be engaged. Their opinions though, were greatly reversed after the fire incident, when “his face had simply been burned away”. When Alek, his “ol’ frien’”, first saw Henry after the accident, he “gasped for a second, and then “yelled the yell of... ... middle of paper ... ...o mock and ridicule Henry, by chasing him, “firing rocks”. Similarly, hierarchy is central to society. There is a reversal in the social ladder, as Henry was a dominant figure, but after the incident this was overturned due to his appearance. However, it is ironic as Henry’s deed is the indisputable act, as he does not criticise others, and he performs the act of ultimate kindness – jeopardising his own life to rescue Jimmie from the fire. “The Monster” is depicted as the most significant work of short fiction written before 1900, primarily because Crane has used the Southern Gothic subgenre, in order to accumulate an abundance of issues such as racism and the “village virus”. Crane exploited small-town experiences to illustrate the flaws in the community, to present a microcosm and a warning for the readers, to deter them from becoming the ostensible monsters.

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