The Monster: The Modernization of the Modern Prometheus

Stephen_Crane's_The_Monster_illustration

Stephen Crane’s novella, The Monster borrows liberally from ideas that are developed in Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein. Shelley’s book is subtitled The Modern Prometheus. Prometheus was the Titan that helped Zeus create man out of clay as well as the one who brought fire to man against the will of Zeus. To oversimplify the story of Frankenstein, it is a story of the creation of a man from nonliving component parts very similar to Prometheus’s clay, but cranes reference to Prometheus has more to do with the malleability of the clay in which man was created. Not only is Henry’s faced changed like a lump of clay but his face is changed by fire, the other contribution of Prometheus.

Prometheus was punished by Zeus for giving the fire to man. While man was able to use this fire to cook their food and keep warm they could also hurt themselves with it or use the fire to create metal weapons. And with the new weapons they could kill each other more efficiently. Therefore, fire was considered a modernizing influence on mankind that not only made life easier but also created more dangers to go along with the way that it helped to simplify life.

In cranes novella, electricity is given the place of the dangerous tool of modernization. Electricity allowed for lighting up of darkened spaces, but one of the byproducts of electric lights and electric wiring to a lesser degree is heat. Wiring people’s houses for electricity created a much greater likelihood of fire. But more directly the harnessing of electricity for human use allowed for the creation of new ways to kill each other like the electric chair. So Crane’s reference to Frankenstein is also a roundabout critique of electricity specifically and modernization in general. While Crane’s novella is organized around the modernizing of a small town, the story maintains naturalism’s view of nature as uncaring and dangerous.

Powers’ Classical Realism and Wolfe’s Anti-ideal Ideal

The anonymous article, “The Process of Sculpture” details the typical artistic process for creating a sculpture in the 19th century and how the process was altered when Hiram Powers created his sculpture “The Greek Slave.” The sculptural process begins with the creation of an iron frame for support. On top of the frame, the artist applies clay until the sculpture is nearly complete. Then, the artist hires models from whom he or she derives the minute details of the sculpture. Finally, the artist directs the work of laborers to recreate his work of art in marble. However, Hiram Powers deviates from typical procedures by choosing a slave as his subject and by using a single model to sit for his sculpture. Powers’ slave is contrasted against Zeuxis’ picture of Hellen of Troy. And whereas Zeuxis had all of the beautiful women of Greece to blend together into the ideal Helen, Powers only used one model to create his sculpture (The Process of Sculpture 317-318.) The Realism in Power’s approach and the contrast between realist and classical approaches to sculpture take center stage in the discussion of Hugh Wolfe’s statue in Life in the Iron Mills; yet, Davis’s story shows that art, like life, defies simple categorization.

According to the article, “The Process of Sculpture,” true artistry was only attainable by those who went through several time consuming preparatory steps and were blessed with “high and refined mental gifts” (The Process of Sculpture 317-318.) And the actual carving of the marble was done by laborers. The article states, “The processes whereby it was now to be transferred to marble… are purely mechanical, and are performed, under the artist’s directions, by uninspired hands” (The Process of Sculpture 318.) However, Wolfe brings into question the validity of these ideas.

Both Powers and Wolf bucked the classical trend by creating sculptural works that used subjects that fit well within the Realist Ideal. The subject of Powers’ sculpture The Greek Slave, although modeled from classical Greece, is a slave, and the focus on the lower classes is one of the hallmarks of Realism. However, Powers departs from realist ideals in his choice of model. He found one model that satisfied almost every ideal standard of beauty (The Process of Sculpture 318.) And the reference to Zeuxis of ancient Greece in the article adds the feeling that Powers’ standard of ideal beauty did not stray far from that of the ancient Greeks.

Wolfe, on the other hand, maintains the standard of realism not only in the selection of a female worker as the subject of his sculpture, but also in the rugged standard of beauty in which he renders the sculpture. The dichotomy of ruggedness and beauty are exemplified when Doctor May admires the beauty in the sweep of muscles in the arm but says, “A working woman,—the very type of her class,” and Mitchel replies, “God forbid” (Rebecca Harding Davis 53.) To add on to the idea that Wolfe has created an object defies easy categorization as art (at least within the classical style of thinking), the narrator, describing the statue, says, “There is not a line of beauty or grace in it” (Rebecca Harding Davis 53.) With this thought even the narrator seems to be debating with him or herself the particular artistic merits of Wolfe’s sculpture. Therefore, Powers’ proclivity for minor deviations from classical style would not be enough let him enjoy Wolfe’s sculptural work. Powers would likely share Mitchel and Doctor May’s sentiment if he were confronted with Wolfe’s sculpture. But the mere fact that Mitch, Doctor May, and Kirby spend so much time discussing the sculpture proves its worth as an important work of art.

In the end, Wolfe’s sculpture is shown to have no real value other than its ability to bring up the question of how we define and value art without giving any definitive answers, but the contrast between classical and Realist styles in both “The Process of Sculpture” and Life in the Iron Mills shows that the process of sculpture is whatever process one chooses. Wolfe has chosen to create his sculpture without the aid of a master artist, and presumably, without the aid of early planning stages. The narrator never gives a definitive statement as to whether or not Wolfe has done any study sketches, carvings in miniature, or full size sculptures in clay prior to commencing work on the statue. However, Kirby does claim that Wolfe could have used any of his shirtless coworkers as inspiration and anatomical study (Davis 53.) While Wolfe skips many of the classical steps in the sculptural process, if Kirby’s assumption is correct, Wolfe has the realist equivalent to Zeuxis’ pick of all the women of Greece in his hundreds of coworkers, and by proxy Wolfe’s sculpture is the Hellen of the working class, the Realist ideal, the anti-ideal ideal.

Work Cited

Anonymous. “The Process of Sculpture.” Life in the Iron Mills. Ed. Cecelia Tichi. Boston: Bedford, 1998. 317-318. Print.

Davis, Rebecca Harding. Life in the Iron Mills. Ed. Cecelia Tichi. Boston: Bedford, 1998. Print.

Holding a Mirror to Society

Taken from ANTON OTTO FISCHER MARINE ARTIST; Katrina Sigsbee Fisher and Alex A. Hurst; Mill Hill Press; Nantucket; MA; © 1984; #159
Taken from ANTON OTTO FISCHER MARINE ARTIST; Katrina Sigsbee Fisher and Alex A. Hurst; Mill Hill Press; Nantucket; MA; © 1984; #159

In Crane’s story, “The Open Boat” the characters are kept from giving up in the face of an unrelenting and uncaring world by focusing their every thought on the work of survival. Similarly, Sary Jane spends her entire time just trying to survive. She constantly focus on her work making nankeen vests. This focus on her work keeps her from giving in to the unrelenting and uncaring environment of the ghetto. On the other hand, The Lady of Shalott is bedridden and unable to work. Being unable to lose herself in the repetition of mundane tasks, she uses her mirror to find beauty in the terrible struggle of day to day life in the ghetto.

Phelps’s story, “The Lady of Shalott” uses mirrors and other glass or glasslike objects to filter out the horrors of the naturalist world in which the characters live. Because The Lady of Shalott cannot move from her bed she is forced to view the world through the ten inches by six inches of mirror. Mirrors reflect a reverse image of the world, and The lady of Shalott’s mirror shows her a world of magic and beauty instead of the conditions in which she actually lives. And there is a sense that as long as she the beauty in the world she will not be affected by these terrible surroundings. In fact, she states that the reason that the people who live in the space below the sidewalk had a mirror they would not have succumbed to the inhuman heat of the summer. And The Lady of Shalott does not die until after her mirror gets destroyed.

But the mirror is not the only screen separating The Lady of Shalott from the reality of the ghetto. Her mirror gives her a view of a window which is the only way that she has to view the world in which she lives. Being shut up in this attack room since was five years old has given her the ability to understand the world from an elitist point of view hence the name The Lady of Shallott. The Lady of Shalott’s misunderstanding of the world mirrors the way that the rest of the population of the city can see the poverty of the ghettos without actually understanding how bad they really are. When the doctor comes to check on The Lady of Shalott, there is a sense that he has come down from his palace and can finally see the conditions in which the poor actually live. He is shocked by the conditions in which The Lady of Shalott lives and claims that she could be cured if only she was moved to better conditions and given treatment. But instead of actually taking care of her himself, he sends for the board of health and goes on vacation. The doctor like so many of the others that had seen glimpses of the life of the poor handed off his responsibility to help to someone else and their help was too little too late.

Fairytales and the Sounds of War

Chickamagua

Ambrose Bierce’s story, “Chickamauga” furthers the argument from “Edison Realism Test” that sound emitted from the phonograph has the ability induce the same emotion that a live experience has. “Chickamauga” uses the premise that without sound one cannot register the appropriate emotional experience in the first place. This story also questions literature’s ability to portray the real with only print’s pale representation of sound. At the same time, the story uses the boy’s inappropriate emotional response to direct the reader to the appropriate emotional response even though there is a lack of auditory input.

Because the boy is only six years old and cannot hear or speak, he has had very little exposure to the world through education or actual life experience. Just like the average person who reads literature about the glory of war, he misinterprets the “ghastly gravity” of the wounded soldiers as “a merry spectacle” (Chickamauga). But more often literature about the glory of war did not delve into the wounds that soldiers received at any level of depth. Therefore, only someone like Bierce, who had seen the horrors of war first hand, would understand that the events depicted in this type of literature is not a merry spectacle because unlike Edison’s phonograph literature cannot pass the Edison Realism Test.

“Chickamauga” Juxtaposes language glorifying war with graphic depictions of wounded and dying soldiers. As the story goes on, the depiction of death and destruction takes precedence in the story and eventually the deaf child, who was a mighty conqueror, is reduced to a chattering ape or a gobbling turkey (Chickamauga). And like the fate of the boy the reader is taken on an emotional roller-coaster as the story begins like the telling of a fairytale and ends with the boy staring at the dead body of what is presumably his mother and watching his home burn (Chickamauga). This last picture of the death of the innocent town’s folk, of the family of the child leaves the reader with both the understanding of some of the hurdles that literature must leap in order to depict the real and an understanding of the importance of sound in signifying the real.

The Nosegay Effect: How to Smell Real

Nosegay

The snippet from Henry James’ “The Art of Fiction,” he represents a novel (and other examples of art by extension) as a flower saying that some of these works of art have the smell of reality. He then his alters his metaphor to a nosegay (Henry James). While nosegay can refer to a posies specifically or a small bouquet of flowers in general, James uses words like air, air-borne, atmosphere, suspended, faint, and particle to play up the smell related aspects of the word, nosegay and bring one’s attention to the smell related meanings of the word such as sweet smelling flowers, herbs, or perfume (Oxford English Dictionary). When James relates a finished piece of art to a nosegay, he is saying that realist art (while not actually real) has suspended within its unreality the faint air-borne particle that reminds the audience of the atmosphere of reality. Therefore, art can never truly represent the real.

In James’ “The Real Thing,” the Monarchs are unfit subjects for realist representation in sketches because they are already a convincing representation of reality. The artist initially assumes that the Monarchs are celebrities, and the porter’s wife announces them as “a gentleman—with a lady” (The Real Thing, Chapter 1). However, throughout the story he receives several hints that they are not the upper-class individuals that they seem to be. They had once made a living taking portraits for advertisements but had fallen on hard times. Now, they have no money. They live in a small apartment. They are forced to beg the artist for work. And once the artist realizes that he cannot do anything with them, he continues to employ them as charity (Chapters 1-3).

If they were actual aristocrats, they would not have been working for their wages in the first place. And if they had fallen on hard times, they would have been taken in by their relatives or friends who had room and money for them. The simple fact that they had no family or friends to give them somewhere to live shows that they only pretend to be aristocracy. But the Monarchs ability to act and dress refined is so good that that artist never questions their airs of aristocracy. Therefore, the reason that the artist is unable to convincingly draw them any other way than the way they look is because he is being influenced by Henry James’ nosegay effect. The Monarchs have created an atmosphere with suspended particles of the scent of aristocracy.

Twain’s Covert, Overt Discussion of Racism

Mark Twain

Twain brings up an interesting conundrum in “The United States of Lyncherdom.” When considering the rise in lynchings, Twain writes, “Is it because men think a lurid and terrible punishment a more forcible object lesson and a more effective deterrent than a sober and colorless hanging done privately in a jail would be?” (Twain 194). Twain describes a lynching as lurid and terrible and a state sanctioned hanging as sober and colorless. If Twain is using the dictionary definition of the word lynching, he is making a strange statement by describing a hanging in contradictory terms. However, he does make this contradictory statement after giving the example of the Pierce City lynching that made little sense because the man that they lynched would have hanged anyway if he had gone to trial (Twain 194). After this example, Twain’s contradictory statement about lynching can be read as an unstated indictment of the racism inherent in the justice system itself. Twain hints at the problem of racism when he writes, “… There are but few negroes in that region and they are without authority and without influence in overawing juries (Twain 194). He only goes as far as to say that the black people in the area have no influence on juries and does not explain why they had no influence.

Twain writes his contradictory lurid, colorless terrible, sober linchings in the form of a question. Asking the reader to decide whether or not a mob run lynching is a more forcible punishment than an inevitable legally run hanging also gives the reader the time to contemplate just how different the two types of execution are. Also, When Twain compares two forms of execution that are essentially the same, only differing in who is carrying them out, but describes them with opposite adjectives, he is giving the reader the chance to think about the differences between the people that comprise the mob of lynchers and the jury. A mob of lynchers would typically be comprised of the local adult males that are chomping at the bit to hang the man that the sheriff has in custody, and a jury would typically be comprised of the local adult males that are chomping at the bit to hang the man that the sheriff has in custody. Therefore, even though Twain did not have the word racism set into type, “The United States of Lyncherdom” is a serious writing directly discussing the problem of southern racism.

Edna’s Transcendental Reading

Awakening

Kate Chopin’s inclusion of the reference to Emerson creates an interesting intertextual dialogue within The Awakening. Emerson’s transcendentalism is an attempt to find knowledge, truth, and enlightenment through introspection and a one on one communion with nature. A follower of Emerson would retreat to a cabin in the woods and learn the secrets of the universe through direct observation of nature. Edna’s awakening follows the Emerson model in a few key ways.

Her process of awakening begins with her epiphany inside the ocean. She seems to have a miraculous shift from non-swimmer to swimmer (31.) But following Emerson’s logic, Edna did not miraculously or accidentally learn to swim; she had finally opened herself to the enlightening influence of nature. The ocean imagery shows where Edna’s sudden learning came from. Chopin writes, “The voice of the sea is seductive; never ceasing, whispering, clamoring, murmuring, inviting the soul to wander for a spell in the abysses of solitude; to lose itself in inward contemplation” (16.) The next sentence goes on describing the touch and embrace of the sea (16.) The personification of the sea is not just a poetic flourish of language, but also the way of showing Edna’s transcendent interconnectedness with nature. Edna’s new knowledge was imparted to her from the seductive voice of the sea. And the sea is another source of solitude which is another of Emerson’s requirements for transcendence.

However, Edna’s strength to follow through with her Emersonian quest for transcendence is called into question on at least two occasions. Mademoiselle Reiz checks Edna for wings then says, “The bird that would soar above the level plain of tradition and prejudice must have strong wings” (92.) This conversation brings into question Edna’s ability to follow Emerson’s path to transcendence. In fact, Edna had only been seeking transcendence through half measures. Edna seeks her solitude while still surrounded with people. While communing with nature in the ocean she is still surrounded by the rest of her party (31.) She glorifies in her solitude when her family leaves the house (80.) And in many other cases where Edna is alone she is able to see the world in a new perspective. But as Chopin writes, “Then Edna sat in the library and read Emerson until she grew sleepy” (81.)

Edna’s full transcendent potential is thwarted by an only partial adherence to Emerson’s teachings. She is not strong enough to remove herself from society completely, and therefore, she is continually held back from her goals of a happy fulfilled life. And in the end, when she comes to the conclusion that she must leave the city to truly commune with nature, Edna only makes it back to her family vacation home (125.) Since she is still surrounded by connections to society and her family life by the mostly empty vacation homes and her mostly empty happy memories, Edna is incapable of reaching the solitude and contentment. Because of her inability to let go of her past, the only way that Edna can reach total emersion in nature and undisturbed solitude is to strip naked and swim out into the ocean and drown (128.)

Realizing Morality

cadian ball

In “At the ‘Cadian Ball,” I noticed one of the aspects of realism that we have not discussed much in class. Characters in realist fiction are allowed to both portray more complicated morality, and accept more complicated morality on the part of other characters. After Calixta was observed poking fun at Bobinot, Madame Suzonne whispered to the woman next to her explaining what would happen if any of the other girls would have done the same thing. She says, “[Ozeina] should immediately be taken out to the mule-cart and driven home” (188.) The narrator follows the line up with the obvious interpretation, “The women did not always approve of Calixta” (188.) The narrator’s inclusion of the word, always, in this interpretation of the scene shows that there were times when the women did approve of Calixta. In fact, this scene shows that more often than not the other women approved of her by connecting the narrator’s statement about the women’s approval in connection with a specific event in which Calixta stepped out of line. But even if Madame Suzonne had felt that she had the authority to have Calixta punished for her flaunting of the social norms, she would only have been sent home to contemplate what she had done, and the next time they saw each other Madame Suzonne would not feel scandalized to be in her presence. Because of the realist filter on reality (which tries to communicate unfiltered reality), the other women at the ball are given the freedom to understand that people are not perfect and that occasionally straying from proper etiquette does not make Calixta a bad person. However, if this scene were written in the sentimental style, Calixta’s step away from proper etiquette would have been followed up with (instead of whispers and a flat statement of occasional disapproval) Madame Suzonne busting out into the center of the room, raising the back of her hand to her forehead, yelling out, “I declare,” and faking a swoon before working up the anger of the rest of the partygoers and having Calixta set apart as a pariah.

Reality: The Only Camera Filter

The article “Doings of a sunbeam” by Oliver Wendell Holmes details how photographs brought home the gruesome reality of the Civil War in a way that had not been possible before. When describing photos of the war, Holmes writes, “It was so nearly like visiting the battle-field to look over these views, that all the emotions excited by the actual sight of the stained and sordid scene, strewed with rags and wrecks, came back to us.” But photographs cannot literally transport someone into the scene that they represent. A photograph is only a two dimensional representation of a three dimensional world. Photographs can only represent what fits within its field of view. And the image that is represented in the photograph has been chosen by the photographer to suit his or her needs. According to the Holmes article, the cameras of this era can take up to 20 seconds to expose the negative. Therefore the only reality that can be captured in these photographs is the reality that can sit perfectly still for at least 20 seconds.

The blurred image of the dog in this photograph demonstrates how the subject matter must be carefully chosen to avoid having a ruined product. Also the composition of this photograph implies that the photograph was staged. The figure on the top left of the photograph complements the figure on the bottom left posing with the dog. The fence cuts the photograph almost exactly in half, and it directs the eye from the first figure to the next. Since the photograph took 20 seconds to take expose, the photographer likely posed these soldiers to get the effect that he wanted. While the camera was able to bring home a greater since of the realities of war, it also brought several more ways to filter reality.

Civil War Photo vol1_pl5

The blurred faces of the two people in the center add to the credibility of the photograph below as the capture of an un-staged event. If the crowd had been assembled just to take a photo the two men would have been instructed to stand still and their faces would not have been blurred.

Civil WarPhoto vol1_pl34

This  next photograph reminds me of Walt Whitman’s “Cavalry Crossing a Ford” but not just because they are both depictions of masses of soldiers crossing a river. Whitman’s poem sets up a snapshot in time. The entire poem is one sentence. The first line of the poem is a description only. The comma at the end of the first line as well as the capitalized letter at the beginning of the second line fool my mind into reading the first line as a sentence fragment. As a faux-fragment the line flashes in my mind as a stagnant image. Each following line adds another flash of image. With the use of words like hark and behold, Whitman further conjures the idea of a captured moment to pay attention to. This “Cavalry Crossing a Ford” seems to capture the candid feel that even this photograph can’t quite get.

Civil War Photo vol1_pl17

Life in the Iron Mills: Realistic and Sentimental Fusion

The narrator of the story uses direct address to the reader in order to manipulate the reader’s emotions with the use of sentimental language. The narrator says, “I want to tell you a story” (41.) The redundancy of informing the reader that the narrator wants to tell a story after the story has already begun is a sentimental writing technique used to reassert the importance of the story that is being told. By assuring the reader that the story is not going to waste his or her time, the narrator is attempting to manipulate the reader into believing the story through the narrator’s use of authoritative language. The narrator is attempting to achieve verisimilitude by informing the reader that there is something important that is about to be told. Therefore, when used properly, this technique achieves a reality effect by entreating the reader to believe that the story is real. In this story, the sentimental techniques are reinforced by nearly two full pages of beautiful concrete imagery that falls more firmly into the realism school of writing. The author uses phrases like: thick clammy air- Irishmen puffing Lynchburg tobacco- and black, slimy pools on the muddy streets (39.) These phrases bring the story to life in a vivid visual way, and further allow the reader to be drawn into the sentimental manipulation of the narrator’s want to tell the reader a story.