As the fourteenth child of social reformist parents—one a Methodist minister and the other an officer of the Women’s Christian Temperance Union—the author Stephen Crane spent his early years steeped in the rhetoric employed by the late nineteenth-century war on alcoholic drink and general intemperance that was being waged around him. Crane’s moral indoctrination was immensely effective, though not in the specific ways his parents intended. In The Blue Badge of Courage, George Monteiro illuminates Crane’s literary output by showing how this major realist writer imaginatively transformed the raw material of the temperance movement’s words, images, metaphors, ideologies, and symbols into his own vision of man’s relationship to both nature and society.
Crane employed the foreboding imagery and the scriptural language appropriated by the temperance movement refashioning this material to fit his own ironic moral outlook—the down-and-out men in An Experiment in Misery; the fallen soul of Maggie Johnson; Jim Conklin’s strange contortive death; the Temperance-blue color of the Palace Hotel; the Dionysian spirit in The Bride Comes to Yellow Sky; and the saving vessel of Christianity as rendered in The Open Boat. In considering the whole of Crane’s writing, Monteiro deepens our understanding of the meaning and purpose of Crane’s work and fosters new appreciation for his immense but short-lived creative faculty.
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