In its barest details, Stephen Crane’s “The Monster” is the story of a black carriage hand who saves the young son of his employer, a respected small-town doctor, from certain death in a fire that destroys the doctor’s home. In the process of the rescue, the black man, Henry Johnson, is horribly burned. When he recovers under the doctor’s healing hands, besides apparently losing his mental capacity, Henry loses his face as well; in fact, the only recognizable feature in his scarred countenance is a single “winking eye.”
Because of his debt to Henry, Dr. Trescott insists on arranging for the injured man to be cared for by a black family. This family, however, as well as everyone else in the town, is terrified by Henry’s monstrous appearance. Eventually, Henry runs away from his caretakers and frightens a number of people whom he encounters in town before he is caught and returned to Dr. Trescott. Henry lives relatively undisturbed with the Trescotts, but his presence in their household has repercussions for the doctor, his wife, and his son. The boy, Jimmie, gains notoriety among his peers through the strange figure of Henry that inhabits his yard. Dr. Trescott, however, steadily loses business so that his practice and status in the community noticeably decline, and Mrs. Trescott is subjected to the scorn of her lady friends, who refuse her customary invitation to tea on Wednesday afternoon.
Although Henry, via his radical change in appearance from a dapper young man sporting lavender pants to a grotesque figure, is central to Crane’s story, its main action involves the change in relations among various figures in the town—a change wrought by Henry’s metamorphosis. Of primary importance is the alteration in Dr. Trescott’s relation to the town. Dr. Trescott appears initially as a benevolent judge in matters of human conduct. When, in the story’s opening episode, little Jimmie breaks a...
(The entire section is 790 words.)