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Stephen Crane's Calvinism LEVERETT T. SMITH, JR. Stephen Crane's chief thematic concern is with the problem of human conduct in a naturalistic universe, that is, in a universe overwhelmingly indifferent to man. In his writings he frequently demonstrates the patterns of human behavior which for him constitute the good life in this universe. Here I would like to consider two of his major works, "George's Mother" (1896), and "The Open Boat" (1897), as manifestations of this concern. Since the essay will focus on the problem of human conduct, it seemsbest to begin with a summary description of the understanding of the nature of the universe which emerges in Crane's fiction. One way of getting at Crane's overall sense of the nature of the universe is to consider the settings of his various writings: nature, the urban world, and the battlefield. Many see the following statements from "The Open Boat" as describing his universe best: When it occurs to a man that nature does not regard him as important, and she feels that she would not maim the universe by disposing of him, he at first wishes to throw bricks at the temple, and he hates deeply the fact that there are no bricks and no temples. Any visible expression of nature would surely be pelleted with his jeers. The correspondent wondered if none ever ascended the tall wind-tower, and if then they never looked seaward. This tower was a giant, standing with its back to the plight of the ants. It represented in a degree, to the correspondent, the serenity of nature amid the struggles of the individual - nature in the wind, and nature in the vision of men. She did not seem cruel to him then, nor beneficent, nor treacherous, nor wise. But she was indifferent, flatly indifferent. 1 (XII, pp. 51, 55-56) Though Crane's universe is dominated here by a nature indifferent to man, there is a duality implied in the second quotation by the phrases "nature in the wind, and nature in the vision of men." In the following poem from War is Kind, Crane seems to concentrate on "nature in the vision of men"; and here nature seems far from indifferent. To the maiden The sea was blue meadow Alive with little froth-people Singing. THE CANADIAN REVIEW OF AMERICAN STUDIES VOL. II, NO. 1, SPRING 1971 To the sailor, wrecked, The sea was dead grey walls Superlative in vacancy, Upon which nevertheless at fateful time Was written The grim hatred of nature. (VI, p. 111) Thus, as the human mind imagines it, nature can be either a pastoral idyll or it can take on the properties of a wrathful God. In a newspaper article on nNebraska' s Bitter Fight for Life," Crane as a reporter again finds nature not so oblivious to man; he speaks of "this terrible and inscrutable wrath of nature." 2 In an article on coal mines for McClure's Crane returns to this idea of nature in describing the miners' conditions: These miners were grimly in the van .... Man is in the implacable grasp of nature. It has only to tighten slightly, and he is crushed like a bug. His loudest shriek of agony would be as impotent as his final moan to bring help from that fair land that lies, like Heaven, over his head. 3 Though in its subject matter this seems the work of a literary naturalist, its tone is Calvinistic. Its imagery merits comparison with that of Jonathan Edwards' famous sermon . . . . thus it is that natural men are held in the hand of God, over the pit of hell; they deserved the fiery pit, and are already sentenced to it; and God is dreadfully provoked, ... Your wickedness makes you as it were heavy as lead, and to tend downwards with great weight and pressure towards hell; and if God should let you go, you would immediately sink and swiftly descend and plunge into the bottomless gulf, and your healthy constitution, and your own care and prudence, and best contrivance, and all your righteousness, would have no more influence to uphold you and keep you out of hell, than a...


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