Stephen Crane

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An indifferent, deterministic universe. Naturalistic texts often describe the futile attempts of human beings to exercise free will, often ironically presented, in this universe that reveals free will as an illusion. How does this idea apply in  Stephen Crane's "A god in wrath" poem below? A god in wrath A god in wrath Was beating a man; He cuffed him loudly With thunderous blows That rang and rolled over the earth. All people came running. The man screamed and struggled, And bit madly at the feet of the god. The people cried, "Ah, what a wicked man!" And -- "Ah, what a redoubtable god!" Stephen Crane    

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There is a characteristic underlying irony of tone in this poem that expresses Crane's opinion on the illusions held by men: If they believe in God [notice Crane's use of the small letter g] in order to survive in an indifferent universe--a belief which Naturalism does not hold--let people perceive these illusions at times. For, in this poem, the subjectivity of people is presented in their failure to perceive that the god of their imagination is anything but "redoutable."

Certainly, too, the lack of free will is metaphorically presented by the man's futile struggle as he "bit madly at the feet of the god," and yet in their limited perception, the deterministic people condemn the struggling man as "wicked" rather than respond to his screams. Moreover, in their religious pretensions, they praise the god,

"Ah, what a wicked man!" ...

"Ah, what a redoubtable god!"

Indeed, Stephen Crane's poem illustrates his skepticism and pervading pessimism about the condition of man whose inner reality often does not match that which truly exists. Herein lies the irony: How can man exercise a free will when his reality is subjective and he is, ultimately helpless in this illusory world?

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