Study Guide

An Experiment in Misery

by Stephen Crane

An Experiment in Misery Summary

Summary (Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

Late one rainy night, a shabbily dressed young man trudges along a New York street taunted by voices calling him a bum. As he reaches City Hall Park, he seeks companionship but spots only well-dressed people on their way home. Moving on to Chatham Square, where the pedestrians’ clothes match his “tatters,” he sees a saloon sign that advertises “Free hot soup tonight.” Moving through its swinging doors, which snap “to and fro like ravenous lips,” the youth is served a schooner of frothy beer and a bowl of watery chicken broth. Turning down a second helping, he returns to the street to search for cheap lodging.

The youth is making inquiries with a seedy-looking man when along comes a bushy-haired drunk who appears “like an assassin steeped in crimes performed awkwardly.” His eyes have a guilty slant and his lips look as though they have just consumed “some tender and piteous morsel.” When he begins begging for some money, the seedy man tells him to “go t’ hell,” but the youth agrees to give him a few pennies in exchange for finding them inexpensive accommodations.

The “assassin” leads them to a seven-cent dive, a foul-odored den that reminds the youth of a graveyard “where bodies were merely flung.” Inside the gloomy room, the faint flame of a gas jet casts ominous shadows. Putting his derby and shoes in a tall locker resembling a mummy case, the youth lies down on a cold cot next to a man who is so still that...

(The entire section is 528 words.)