His New Mittens by Stephen Crane, 1898
The magic trick:
Showing how children feel the simplest events with extreme emotion and drama
We end our Stephen Crane Week the same place where we began: Whilomville, his fictional New York town based on his childhood home. It’s a nice place. Not a bad visit. But it can be hard to navigate for a kid.
Today, young Horace’s got some drama, reconciling the pride he must uphold among his friends with the demands of the adults back home. Drama is the operative word here. In truth, nothing very dramatic happens. But to him, to his elementary mindset, everything feels like the end of the world. The story captures that adolescent agony perfectly. So we get words like obdurate, barbarity, and inexorable.
If you don’t remember the way childhood skews your emotional compass, this story will serve as a great reminder. And that’s quite a trick on Crane’s part.
His heart was black with hatred. He painted in his mind scenes of deadly retribution. His mother would be taught that he was not one to endure persecution meekly, without raising an arm in his defense. And so his dreams were of a slaughter of feelings, and near the end of them his mother was pictured as coming, bowed with pain, to his feet. Weeping, she implored his charity. Would he forgive her? No; his once tender heart had been turned to stone by her injustice. He could not forgive her. She must pay the inexorable penalty.
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