‘The Snake’ by Stephen Crane

The Snake by Stephen Crane, 1896

The magic trick:

Bringing a simple man-vs.-nature conflict to life

In some sense you can criticize this story for being painfully simple. It isn’t just a good example of a literary man-vs.-nature conflict. It literally is a man-vs.-nature conflict. Specifically, it’s man vs. snake.

But here’s the thing, that kind of simplicity only raises the degree of difficulty on the writer. If that’s all you’re going to give us – a man fighting a rattlesnake – well then it had better be pretty darn engrossing. And in the case of this story, yeah, it really is. He dispenses with all the fluff. He gets down to business and beautifully describes the scene. The drama inherent to the conflict takes over from there. And that’s quite a trick on Crane’s part.

The selection:

Slowly the man moved his hands toward the bushes, but his glance did not turn from the place made sinister by the warning rattle. His fingers, unguided, sought for a stick of weight and strength. Presently they closed about one that seemed adequate, and holding this weapon poised before him the man moved slowly forward, glaring. The dog with his nervous nostrils fairly fluttering moved warily, one foot at a time, after his master.


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