Friday, May 14, 2010

When Man Falls, a Crowd Gathers

Stephen Crane (1871–1900)
From Stephen Crane: Prose & Poetry

Stephen Crane’s sketches and articles for New York newspapers often describe people seen or things experienced on Manhattan’s Lower East Side. The following narrative, originally published in The New York Press in 1894, is characteristic in its description of life on the streets; based on a real incident, it was published under the multi-level headline:
A Graphic Study of New York Heartlessness
“What’s the Matter?” That Too Familiar Query
Describing the “heartlessness” of a voyeuristic crowd pushing each other to get a view of a man having a seizure, the article also depicts a few strangers trying to help and the terror of the boy who had been accompanying the man. Michael Robertson notes in Stephen Crane, Journalism, and the Making of Modern American Literature that, while “Crane’s general indifference to race is remarkable,” this sketch is one of his few New York pieces that specifically mentions ethnicity: “the two central characters’ Italian speech is used to emphasize the threatening nature of the crowd.” The story prompted at least one subsequent letter to the editor (which Crane dutifully clipped and inserted into his scrapbook) arguing that the characterization was unfair—that New Yorkers often rushed to help at accidents.

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A man and a boy were trudging slowly along an East-Side street. . . . If you don't see the full story below, click here (PDF) or click here (Google Docs) to read it—free!

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