Literary impressionism is exemplified by the writer Steven Crane. Though many themes of writing styles writing styles such as realism and naturalism lend themselves to Crane's works, it is the combination of components from these styles with impressionism that gave Steven Crane his own unique panache. An understanding of of many organic features of impressionism and Crane's personal writing style are needed to bring full enjoyment out of Crane's literary works, including the masterpiece of all impressionistic novels The Red Badge of Courage. These include: Backgrounds of Impressionism, Narrative Method, Theme, Characterization, Structure and Imagery.
Impressionism has often been viewed as having a large impact on many arts, especially painting, but the most significant and overlooked impact has been impressionism's impact on literature. The modern employment of the term "impressionism" to identify an artistic inclination comes from Claude Monet's painting, Impression, Sunrise. The reason that impressionism isn't seen as having a major impact on literature as some of the other major writing styles is because there was no need to name a style that didn't exist until critics saw the difference between impressionism and naturalism. "Certain critics, looking primarily at Maggie, George's Mother, and the Bowery Tales concluded with some justification that they closely resembled works of naturalism."(Nagel p. 6). Until Crane wrote The Red Badge of Courage, most his works could be categorized under the school of naturalism without an excessive amount of argument, but even though The Red Badge of Courage portrays many naturalistic qualities, through it's depiction of perception of truth being more important than truth itself shows Crane's style is not limited to naturalism and merits a name that suits it. "The impressions of the perceiving mind is quite distinct from the phenomenon stimulating the impression, and although impressions may be the only source of human knowledge, the perceiving intelligence in recognizing the stimulus apprehends it in terms formulated by the mind itself." (Nagel 26).
The foremost element of an impressionist novel is the narrative methods used. Typically an impressionist novel is narrated in third person to give the novel a sense of things happening in the present. Impressionism thrive on the basis that the novel feels as if everything is happening very quickly. Impressions only happen in experiences, not when recapitulating. In The Red Badge of Courage from the time Henry Fleming is introduced, all the story that is told is that which revolves around Henry, or maybe that which Henry revolves around. "Fleming's mind is seldom analyzed in an objective, omniscient way; very few incidents are extensively told. Practically every scene is filtered through Fleming's point of view and seen through his eyes." (Nagel 53). In the novel Henry is in a constant struggle to piece together all of the information around him and construct a reliable interpretation. Very few times does he actually have time to look back and reflect on what has happened, and those few times he does his thoughts are soon redirected because of another change of perception. Henry will consistently provide the reader with distorted perceptions until chapter 18 in which Henry reaches his epiphany, that will be discussed later. After reading Henry's somewhat distorted perceptions of the uncontrollable situations around him, it is easy to see why much of Crane's works were mistaken for works of naturalism.
The theme The Red Badge of Courage is not simply Henry's struggle to control his fear, but the confrontation of his inability to contrive and sustain a realistic perception of himself and the conflicts around him. The first manifestation of Henry's problem is his desertion. Because Henry comes to the point where he is driven by fear, his mind has again changed his perceptions of his enemies into metaphorical dragons, so he blindly...
References: Crane, Steven The Red Badge of Courage e-book courtesy of Project Gutenburg (www.gutenburg.org)
Nagel, James. Stephen Crane and Literary Impressionism. University Park: Pennsylvania State University Press, 1980, 190 p.
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