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J A M I E R O B E R T S O N University of New Mexico Stephen Crane, Eastern Outsider in the West and Mexico Though one of Stephen Crane’s Western stories was accompanied by a full page illustration by Frederick Remington,1 Crane’s use of the West as an artistic source was far different from Remington’s. As Edwin Cady has pointed out,2 Crane was tom between the neo-romanticism of Remington, Roosevelt, and Wister that so strongly influenced American life in the 1880’s, and the realism of William Dean Howells. Unlike Howells, Crane was attracted to the neo-romantic ideal of the strenuous life, but unlike Remington, Roosevelt, and Wister, he could never wholly endorse the Eastern notion of active frontier life as the realization of the ideal American life. For one thing, Crane didn’t go west until 1895, when whatever real West had existed was no more. He spent only about five months in the West and Mexico and was therefore more a tourist, perhaps, than the neo-romantic Easterners mentioned above. Unlike them, however, he was acutely aware that he was a visitor and that his insights into the West and Mexico of 1895 were always those of an outsider. Crane was attracted to the West, but he never succumbed to the dream world of 1“A Man and Some Others” appeared in the Century, 53 (February 1897), 601-607, with an illustration by Frederick Remington on page 600. 2Edwin Harrison Cady, “Stephen Crane and the Strenuous Life,” English Lit­ erary History, 28 (December, 1961), pp. 376-382. 244 Western American Literature the dime novelist or even the world of Owen Wister’s The Virginian. His Western heroes participate in the convention of popular Western fiction that individual courage gives meaning to life, but that conven­ tion is always ironic for them. Crane uses the Western myth to show that the courageous confrontation of the unknown — an unknown that for him as for Emily Dickinson is often death — can lead to an insight into what he believes is the chief characteristic of any person’s individual development: a humble awareness of one’s own insignificance. His most interesting Western characters see the world more clearly from the perspective of a new awareness of their human insignificance. These characters come to the tragic realization that the images of bravery and violence they have been enacting or observing are a distortion of reality. Other critics of Crane’s Western stories have argued against this interpretation. Robert Glen Deamer strongly urges that Crane’s use of the Western myth is serious and not comic or parodic, and that Crane is not ironic in his depiction of Anglo heroes.3 Raymund Paredes argues that these Western stories are very serious indeed, and he charges Crane with racism.4 Deamer allows that Crane was dead serious in his depic­ tion of Anglo heroism in the wilderness, and Paredes asserts that for truly understanding the Mexican this seriousness was disastrous. I think both Deamer and Paredes miss the mark. Unlike the neo-romantic Easterners in the West, Crane never employed the myth of the West as an end in itself, but as an artistic convention to be used for serious artistic ends. Like Chaucer’s use of the conventions of courtly love, Crane’s use of Western conventions always reveals his distance from the reality from which those conventions grew. He knew that the myth of the West was not an indigenous Western creation. As a poetic convention, it was developed by Easterners for consumpton by audiences in the East, and Crane’s awareness of this fact encouraged an ironic use of the myth in his Western stories. Deamer argues that in 1895 Crane could only find the myth still 3Robert Glen Deamer, “Stephen Crane and the Western Myth,” Western American Literature, 7 (1972), pp. 111-123. 4Raymund A. Paredes, “Stephen Crane and the Mexican,” Western American Literature, 6 (1971), pp. 31-38. Paredes writes that both Anglo and Mexican “know fear intensely, but the anglo responds to a challenge or a threat with courage, reacting coolly and weighing his options, working quickly to stay...


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