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Reflections on Cultural Origins: The Visual Landscape of The Red Badge of Courage

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This thesis examines the effect advances in the print industry and evolutions in the field of photography, which occurred just prior to the Civil War and throughout the Gilded Age, had on the public perception of war as evidenced in the pages of Stephen Crane’s seminal war novel. By juxtaposing passages from The Red Badge of Courage with specific illustrations and photographs from the Gilded Age, this study seeks to ascertain the origins of Crane’s vibrant imagery, and in so doing, effectively map the novel back upon the locus which gave it birth—the rich, visual media culture of New York City during the latter half of the 19th century. Focusing primarily on Civil War sketch artist drawings, Civil War photographs and contemporary images detailing instances of mechanical encroachment and social violence, I attempt to trace this pivotal transformation in public opinion to its roots in the popular press, particularly the highly mediated portrayals of war disseminated during this period and the voyeurism and spectatorship these violent and disturbing views inevitably engendered. The three chapters in this study highlight three disparate aspects of the visual landscape which figure prominently in either the novel’s descriptive passages or in its imagistic patterns. The confused and chaotic action sequences, which appear to be based on the drawings of Civil War sketch artists, form the premise of chapter one. Static depictions of death and destruction, which originate in the scrupulous labors of photographers like Alexander Gardner and his colleagues, function as the basis of chapter two, while metaphors of mechanization, animalism, anarchy, mob violence, and class conflict are addressed in chapter three’s examination of the media’s sensationalist discourse and biased representations. Thus, I maintain that Crane’s innovative literary aesthetic does not reflect war per se, but rather the Gilded Age’s mediated perception of war.
Stephen Crane
Red Badge of Courage
Di Frances, Jamie (author)
Moss, William (committee chair)
Maine, Barry (committee member)
Wilson, Eric (committee member)
2009-05-08T18:04:41Z (accessioned)
2010-06-18T18:59:50Z (accessioned)
2009-05-08T18:04:41Z (available)
2010-06-18T18:59:50Z (available)
2009-05-08T18:04:41Z (issued)
English (discipline)
http://hdl.handle.net/10339/14896 (uri)
en_US (iso)
Wake Forest University
Release the entire work for access only to the Wake Forest University system for one year from the date below. After one year, release the entire work for access worldwide. (accessRights)
Reflections on Cultural Origins: The Visual Landscape of The Red Badge of Courage

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