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R O B E R T G L E N D E A M E R University of New Mexico Stephen Crane and The Western Myth Considering the immense importance of the myth of the West in American literature and American culture, it is surprising to note that one of our major writers, Stephen Crane, has not been adequately studied from the point of view of the Western myth— even though in his life and in his writings he added a fascinating chapter to the history of this myth. Neither of the classic studies by Henry Nash Smith and R. W. B. Lewis mentions Crane’s rela­ tionship to the Western myth. And even Leslie A. Fiedler, com­ prehensive as he usually is, does not mention Crane in his recent, brilliant analysis of “that peculiar form of madness which dreams, and achieves, and is the true West.” David W. Noble does discuss Crane in his The Eternal Adam and the New World Garden, but his treatment of Crane’s relationship to the Western myth is dis­ appointingly cursory and misleading: he argues that Crane repudi­ ated the myth of the West, but he bases his argument upon discus­ sions of Maggie, George’s Mother, and The Red Badge of Courage. Crane’s Western stories and sketches, and his letters, are simply ignored. Joseph Katz’s “Introduction” to his recent edition of Crane’s Western sketches does make the point that the Western trip was a crucial experience for Crane, but it does not discuss either the trip or the sketches from the point of view of the Western myth.1 Those who have written about Crane and the West have— with the important exceptions of Crane’s first two biographers, Thomas Beer and John Berryman—pretty generally assumed that Crane wrote about the West only to laugh at it, that he never took the Western myth seriously. Even Edwin H. Cady, whose short 1Henry Nash Smith, Virgin Land: The American West as Symbol and M yth (New York: Random House, 1950); R. W. B. Lewis, The American Adam: Innocence, Tragedy, and Tra­ dition in the Nineteenth Century (Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 1955); Leslie A. Fiedler, The Return of the Vanishing American (New York.: Stein and Day, 1968); David W. Noble, The Eternal Adam and the New World Garden: The Central M yth in the American Novel Since 1830 (New York: George Braziller, 1968); Joseph Katz, “Introduction/’ in Stephen Crane in the West and Mexico, ed. Katz (Kent, Ohio: The Kent State University Press, 1970). 112 Western American Literature but suggestive article on “Stephen Crane and the Strenuous Life” is the truest statement of the great attraction which “Rooseveltian neo-romanticism” held for Crane, makes the vastly oversimplified assertion that “ ‘The Bride Comes to Yellow Sky’ is a hilariously funny parody of neo-romantic lamentations over ‘The Passing of the West.’ ”2 I would like to suggest that a careful examination of Crane’s Western writings will support the contention that his attitude toward the Western myth is far more serious than has yet been recognized. Crane was, perhaps, not as obsessed with the conse­ quences of the vanishing of the American wilderness as were Cooper or Twain or Faulkner; but his writings show that he did have an intense awareness of the American myth of the West and that his essential attitude toward “The Passing of the West” was not parodic, not satiric—but serious, sympathetic, and even tragic. Moreover, the West profoundly changed Crane’s outlook on life by teaching him to believe in man’s potential for courage, and this had im­ portant consequences on the kind of literature that he began to pro­ duce after his Western experience. It is important, first of all, to place Crane’s Western writings within the historical context of the time in which he lived and wrote. For Edwin Cady is surely right in insisting that “Crane died a Seeker” and that “his critics have paid too little attention to the forces and attractions of the American society through which he sought.”3 Quite obviously, one of the strongest of these “forces and attractions” was what Cady calls “Rooseveltian...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1948-7142
Print ISSN
0043-3462
Pages
pp. 111-123
Launched on MUSE
2017-10-04
Open Access
No
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