Realism and Beyond
When they go out together, Maggie and Pete frequently attend the theater and see “plays in which the brain-clutching heroine” is “rescued from the palatial home of her guardian, who is cruelly after her bonds, by the hero with the beautiful sentiments.” Crane’s ironic description of the New York stage during his day reflects his general disgust toward the sentimentality that pervaded popular culture. Maggie, like much realistic fiction, challenges sentimental novels in which the heroines are chaste and the heroes honorable. In those kinds of books, the protagonists may experience many trials and tribulations along the way, but in the end, the good are rewarded and the immoral punished. The sentimentalists presented an ideal world whereas the realist writers, recognizing that life was seldom so perfect, sought to create books that depicted life not as it should be, but as it was. While some American realists, most notably William Dean Howells, retained the moral basis of the sentimentalists and continued to reward the good and punish the wicked, others, like Stephen Crane, did not. What sentimentality there is in Maggie is present as a satiric target. Showing Maggie’s susceptibility to sentimentalism, Crane mocks it and reveals its dangerous consequences for young women who take the world of sentimental fiction for reality. Imagining Pete to be akin to the hero of a popular melodrama, Maggie succumbs to his seduction.
KeywordsFatigue Foam Hull Gall Smoke
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