“No Reparation”: Accounting for the Enduring Harms of Slavery in Stephen Crane’s The Monster
Abstract

This essay reconsiders the racial politics of Stephen Crane’s 1898 novella The Monster. Far from providing yet another case in support of the prevailing thesis that this white writer had little if anything insightful to say about issues of race, I argue, the narrative affords unique insight into the afterlife of slavery and the racialized contours of wrong, debt, and responsibility that haunted the postbellum United States. Such a possibility has remained in critics’ blind spot, however, because the text’s sense of history and temporality diverges significantly from the adherence to chronology and the associated notion of discrete epochs presupposed by the historicist approaches scholars generally deploy to unravel the work. In its conceptualization of the peculiar institution’s persistent injury as the devaluation of blackness that survives legal emancipation, The Monster gives narrative form to the process, if not necessarily the end, of accounting for slavery’s endurance through time and across the boundaries imposed by standard historical markers. In so doing, Crane’s novella exhibits a politically charged double vision that renders legible the persistence of the past in the present—the narrative task implicit in any project of redress—and suggests a way out of the problem of causality that confronts debates about making amends for slavery even today.


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