In the archetypal American success story, social mobility often depends on physical mobility. But such narratives of individual progress became harder to sustain amid the congestion and economic division of the 19th-century city. Industrialization and poverty brought physical immobility and constraint, elements at odds with temporal narrative itself. Both these changes in city life and the textual crisis they engendered are reflected in the work of Stephen Crane. His New York fiction, built on linear narrative and authorial detachment, tracks individual economic failure in a city divided by class privilege and exploitation. His newspaper sketches, rather, are constructed in spatial rather than temporal terms, with a focus on crowds rather than individuals. Impromptu groupings gather and then disperse, occupying space rather than moving through it. Potential conflict is diffused, the latent energy of the crowd turned into a momentary community that reappropriates and reshapes both city and text.


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pp. 75-98
Launched on MUSE
Open Access
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