Is Steve really a monster in Walter Dean Myers' novel Monster?

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Tamara K. H. | Middle School Teacher | (Level 3) Educator Emeritus

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Though Walter Dean Myers' young adult novel Monster certainly does raise questions about choices, Meyers also creates a great deal sympathy in the readers for the protagonist Steve Harmon. This creation of sympathy can indicate that Myers does not see Steve as a monster, despite what Steve has felt about himself and what other characters have said.

Steve is a 16-year-old from the ghetto, and as one from the ghetto, he believes that surviving on the streets requires working on the side of the gang, not against it. As a result, he has lived his young life doing jobs for the gang that have gotten him involved in small crimes, drug usage, and other poor choices. However, Myers' story shows it is clear Steve has made bad choices as a product of his environment and raises the question of if Steve is "evil" because he has done these crimes as a result of his environment or "good" despite having committed crimes. The question is underscored by the fact that Myers never reveals to us whether or not Steve is truly guilty of the robbery and murder he is on trial for, even after his acquittal.

However, it can be said that Myers uses several occurrences to show that Steve is in general a good guy from a harsh environment that has molded him poorly. One occurrence concerns the fact that Myers describes Steve as battling with the urge to cry while in prison during his trial, especially after having been called a monster by the prosecution. In a diary entry, Steve informs us about his discovery of the best time to cry while in jail:

The best time to cry is at night, when the lights are out and someone is being beaten up and screaming for help. (p. 1)

Hardened criminals do not feel the need to cry. Since he is crying, we know he can only be crying out of a sense of shame, guilt, self-pity, and even fright. Hardened criminals do not feel a sense of shame and guilt; therefore, we know he is not a hardened criminal and a generally good person in a bad environment.

Another occurrence that points to his inherent goodness is his instinct to hug his defense counselor after his acquittal is announced. This instinct  shows a genuine sense of relief. Had his feelings of relief been clouded with a sense of guilt for having committed the crime he was on trial for, he would not have felt safe reaching out to someone else; he would have instead privately showed elation through cheering, clapping his hands, or pumping his fists. The fact that he reached out to hug someone shows he felt  guilt-free enough of the crime he was being accused of to reach out beyond himself towards another human being. The gesture also shows a genuine love for fellow humanity because it shows an ability to feel genuine affection; something the hardened criminal is also incapable of doing. Therefore, this one simple, instinctive gesture of reaching out to try and hug someone also serves to show us that Steve is not a monster but rather a genuinely good person negatively influenced by his harsh environment.

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