The Pace Of Youth by Stephen Crane, 1894
The magic trick:
Using the plot’s crescendo as symbolism
This is a complex, beautiful story built around an otherwise simple notion of young love. It opens with a series of lyrical descriptions of youth and love and the city and merry-go-rounds and boardwalks. I’m not actually sure it’s set at the boardwalk, but that’s what I was picturing at least. The reader basks in the immoderation of young love. The young man and woman, the story tells us, lose themselves in romantic oblivion.
Then the plot takes over. Her father does not approve. He forbids their relationship. This is not original stuff. But who cares? Just keep reading.
As the plot picks up pace, so too does the feeling that the father no longer has control of the situation. It isn’t simply the story moving faster, it’s the idea that time is moving faster. The youth versus the older generation. The reader, previously enjoying the sympathy and point of view of the young couple, now feels the father’s point of view. Time waits for no man.
And that’s quite a trick on Crane’s part.
Within the merry-go-round there was a whirling circle of ornamental lions, giraffes, camels, ponies, goats, glittering with varnish and metal that caught swift reflections from windows high above them. With stiff wooden legs, they swept on in a never-ending race, while a great orchestrion clamored in wild speed. The summer sunlight sprinkled its gold upon the garnet canopies carried by the tireless racers and upon all the devices of decoration that made Stimson’s machine magnificent and famous. A host of laughing children bestrode the animals, bending forward like charging cavalrymen, and shaking reins and whooping in glee. At intervals they leaned out perilously to clutch at iron rings that were tendered to them by a long wooden arm. At the intense moment before the swift grab for the rings one could see their little nervous bodies quiver with eagerness; the laughter rang shrill and excited. Down in the long rows of benches, crowds of people sat watching the game, while occasionally a father might arise and go near to shout encouragement, cautionary commands, or applause at his flying offspring. Frequently mothers called out: “Be careful, Georgie!” The orchestrion bellowed and thundered on its platform, filling the ears with its long monotonous song. Over in a corner, a man in a white apron and behind a counter roared above the tumult: “Popcorn! Popcorn!”
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