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Naturalism in Stephen Crane’s “A God in Wrath” Essay

The 1880s to the 1940s marks a period in American Literature known as Realism and Naturalism. This was the time when most literary works reflected the ideas of pessimism and determinism, and where events and even God oppose human free will or remain indifferent to human desires. One author and poet of this era was Stephen Crane. Crane published “A God in Wrath” in 1905 in a collection of poems called The Black Rider and Other Lines. The poem, which is about a god torturing a man, reflects the recurring theme of naturalism with instances of pessimism, determinism, and detachment.

Naturalism in “A God in Wrath” Pessimism. Pessimism, or the seeming inevitability of the occurrence of negative events, fills every line of the “A God in Wrath. ” In the poem, the very fact that a god is punishing the man is perhaps the greatest indication of pessimism considering that no man can ever be greater than a god. Therefore, no man can ever escape a god’s wrath and so a man who is suffering from it will surely suffer till the end. Indeed nothing can be more pessimistic than that. One particular line, “He cuffed him loudly” (Crane), indicates that the man is bound and has no chance of escape ever.

Moreover, one should take note that these cuffs are put by a god and therefore impossible to get rid of. Also, the cuffs are in the form of “thunderous blows that rang and rolled over the earth” (Crane). This means that these are not just simple shackles that simply require a key to remove but that they are as complicated as they are difficult to detach. Perhaps one more indication of pessimism in the poem is the presence of a crowd of people who are not shown to help the man, or are portrayed as helpless creatures that do nothing but observe and add to the man’s injury by saying “Ah, what a wicked man! ” (Crane).

The man in “A God in Wrath” is already in deep suffering when “All people came running” (Crane). Nevertheless, although he “screamed and struggled” (Crane), the crowd, instead of helping him, condemns him more by calling him wicked. In real life, one can see people who not only ignore those who ask for their help but even regard them as evil. Such is the picture of the society that Crane may have wanted to show through the element of pessimism in the poem. Determinism. Determinism in “A God in Wrath” centers around the idea that the man has no choice but to accept the wrath of god and eventually his own fate.

The whole poem is a testament to the absence of free will as indicated in the man’s useless struggle to escape. Man’s free will is figuratively strangled when the god “cuffed him loudly” (Crane) and that although he “screamed and struggled” (Crane), which means that he wants to assert himself and his free will, no help arrives and there is no escape. Perhaps the man’s last chance of escape is the people who “came running” (Crane), and maybe he smiles at the fact that all of them seem to come to his aid.

Unfortunately, it seems that he is predestined to suffer and perhaps even die of his suffering when he finds out later on that the people who come running actually do nothing but say “Ah, what a wicked man! ” (Crane). Crane here shows that no amount of screams and struggles from the man, or every man in general, can change the course of nature, the will of a god, or man’s destiny to suffer. Detachment. The stone-cold objectivity in Stephen Crane’s tone is felt in the poem in his use of such nameless characters as a god, a man, and all people.

The absence of a capital “g” in “god,” except perhaps in the title, clearly indicates that this god is not necessarily the Christian God but perhaps any form of deity considered to be a symbol of cruel and inhuman dictatorship. It can even be religion itself which is shown here that makes man suffer. One can also see that in the poem, the man is unnamed, which means that it can represent any human being particularly those who seem to be experiencing a hopeless struggle. Lastly, the phrase “all people” (Crane) may represent everyone else in the world of the man who suffers.

Also, the fact that all of them “came running” (Crane) tells us that they are united in their action, and that when they all together “cried, Ah, what a wicked man! ” (Crane), one can see that people in general are wicked and often express their ridicule and cruelty in unison. On the whole, the element of detachment in Crane’s “A God in Wrath” tells us that the situation portrayed in the poem and its painful events are not exclusive to the characters in it but also to every suffering human being. Conclusion

Stephen Crane’s “A God in Wrath” is a poem that portrays the elements of the era of Literary Realism and Naturalism, which include pessimism, determinism and detachment. Pessimism is reflected by man’s seemingly unending struggle with a god that is impossible to conquer and with people who are brutally indifferent to his suffering. Determinism is present in the lines that show that his fate seems inevitable and that no amount of struggle and will to survive may seem enough to free the man in the poem from his suffering.

Finally, a sense of detachment is expressed by the fact that the characters in the poem are unnamed. Hence, this makes the particular literary work a mirror of what actually goes on in the life of every human being who suffers and how much pain he has to bear with the wrath of a cruel god and the inaction of his indifferent fellow humans. Works Cited Crane, Stephen. 2010. “A God in Wrath. ” Stephen Maria Crane. Poemhunter. com. May 24, 2010. <http://www. poemhunter. com/poem/a-god-in-wrath-2/> Crane, Stephen. “A God in Wrath. ” Withered Arm and Other Stories. Ed. George Bess. New Jersey: Viking Penguin, 1999. Print.


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