A Close Encounter with the Beast of Nature and Reality.
When I think of realism in regards to literature, I think of authors such as, Jane Austen, Charles Dickens, Fredrick Douglas, and William Faulkner. However, Stephen Crane, famous author of the 19th century, captures both naturalism and realism in his fiction. Crane uses details in his stories that paint a clear picture of the culture and the daily struggle the culture deals with. In his story, “Maggie, a Girl of the Streets”, Crane depicts the realism and naturalism in the story by focusing on the dialect and the characters’ problems. These are issues that are real and the reader may be able to relate to. Frank Norris says, “For the novel is the great expression of modern life” (Norris 4). I think this holds true for Crane’s work. In short, Crane’s use of realism and naturalism may cause readers to empathize with the characters.
I feel Crane’s work is almost about him walking through the streets and writing exactly what he observes. Crane goes beyond simply recording the daily lives of the characters in “Maggie, a Girl of the Streets.” He expresses the Irish dialect accurately. “A youse can’t fight Blue Billie! I kin lick yeh wid one han” (Crane 52.) Matter of fact, Crane portrays the Irish dialect so accurately that I have a hard time understanding some of the dialogue in the story. Reading the above quote makes me wonder if Crane himself is actually Irish. Moreover, the dialogue makes me think the character is a reflection from Crane’s personal experience. I believe Crane finds it necessary to bring as much realism and naturalism to the story in order to engage readers. Readers are then able to possibly relate to these characters, or at least better understand their culture. Because of this, I care more about Jimmie and the other characters. Furthermore, I develop an understanding of what the people in a small town in Ireland have to deal with. But there is a bigger picture, one I think Crane intends for all of his readers from around the world to know and empathize with. Jimmie’s and Maggie’s experience is how anyone struggles through everyday life of abuse, poverty, loneliness and adversity. One of Jimmie’s obstacles is dealing with the neighborhood bullies. The other is dealing with his stressful home environment, where his mother and father fight. In addition, realism and naturalism is shown from the beginning of the story as the kids throw stones at Jimmie, who is also referred to as the urchin. I recall watching Irish films where the outcast is ridiculed and stoned. Alas, it is the kids who do this. Therefore, I think Crane shows what some kids have to go through in a small town in Ireland. This case of bullying is something people around the world may be able to emphasize with. “A stone had smashed into Jimmie’s mouth. Blood was bubbling over his chin and down upon his ragged shirt” (Crane 29). It is almost as if Crane is there as a spectator. He clearly shows the pain Jimmie is experiencing both physically and emotionally. He describes Jimmie’s wounds and his dirty cloths. It makes me feel for the kid. Additionally, it tells me more about the boy other than him being a victim of the neighborhood bullies. The words, “ragged shirt” makes me conclude that Jimmie and his family suffer from poverty.
The characters and their problems in “Maggie, a Girl of the Street” feel real and natural. Well, I think that is because Crane did his research on the kids and their families growing up in a small town in Ireland. He doesn’t glamourize anything. He does not provide his idealistic view of this society. Simply, he tells and shows the reader the story as realistically as possible. Life in a small town Ireland for Maggie and Jimmie is ugly and an emotional roller-coaster. Crane doesn’t hide this, he invites readers to judge for themselves by writing as much details about the society and the characters as he can. “In all unhandy places there were bracelets, brooms, rags and bottles. Formidable women, with uncombed hair disordered…” (Crane 70). He describes the characters and the setting just as they are. But how are readers supposed to trust Crane’s observation is accurate or not? Nonetheless, Crane’s approach to fiction is similar to me walking into a friend’s home and describing on paper what I observe. Well, there is a slight difference, of course. Crane also describes what he believes the emotions are in these characters. Unlike me, he takes a walk through an entire community and then reflects on his observations. When he shows readers that this woman has “uncombed” hair and wears a “disordered” dress, he informs me she is not of high society and in some way is struggling.
I recall reading a book called, “Desert Solitaire” by the American author, Edward Abby. He uses a lot of colorful language to describe the wilderness in Utah. He uses figurative language in an attempt to persuade readers of his cause to protect Utah’s environment from the industrial revolution. A number of people did not understand or support his cause, thus he romanticizes his world unlike Crane does in his story in hopes they will understand his cause. Crane is not trying to persuade anyone with his language though he does use a variety of sensory descriptions concerning the characters and the setting in order to put his readers in the world he is portraying. As a result of his careful observation of this particular Irish culture, Crane proves himself as both a naturalist and realist. His fiction teaches readers about the peoples’ daily struggle outside and within their home environment. Crane explores human nature with much insight in “Maggie, a Girl of the Streets.”