An Experiment in Misery

by Stephen Crane
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What might be an example of a two-part thesis sentence (including theme and literary devices) if one were writing a literary analyisis of Stephen Crane's "An Experiment in Misery"?

A well-stated thesis on the theme and literary devices of Crane's "An Experiment in Misery" might look like this: The story's main theme is about men rather than women, and it successfully conveys a sense of the desperation of poverty. However, despite interesting imagery, skillful characterization and effective dialogue, the writing is awkward in places.

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An effective thesis statement dealing with the theme and techniques of Stephen Crane’s story “An Experiment in Misery” might want to deal with such themes as the following:

  • The fact that the story focuses exclusively on the experiences of poor men rather than of poor men and women.
  • The possibility that the story reflects actual social conditions of the time – a claim that could be supported, perhaps, by historical research.
  • The claim that the story is, or is not, effectively written. In other words, one might want to argue that the story is powerful and moving, or one might want to argue that it is over-written and poorly phrased.  What, for instance, should one make of writing such as this?

A saloon stood with a voracious air on a corner. A sign leaning against the front of the doorpost announced "Free hot soup tonight!" The swing doors, snapping to and fro like ravenous lips, made gratified smacks as the saloon gorged itself with plump men, eating with astounding and endless appetite, smiling in some indescribable manner as the men came from all directions like sacrifices to a heathenish superstition.

Is this “good” writing, and, if so, what makes it “good”?  Or is it “poor” writing, and, if so, what makes it “poor”?  These are the kinds of questions one would want to answer if one were arguing for – or against – the purely literary merits of this tale.

An argument about literary merit would work most effectively if one also wanted to discuss the story’s techniques.  One could then ask such questions as the following:

  • What makes the story’s imagery effective (or ineffective)?
  • What makes the story’s figures of speech (such as its metaphors and similes) effective (or ineffective)?
  • What makes the story’s characterizations effective (or ineffective)?
  • What makes the story's dialogue effective (or ineffective)?
  • And so on.

A paper dealing with the actual literary qualities of the story (or lack thereof) would have the further advantage that it would deal with the story as a piece of literature (successful or unsuccessful) rather than as a simple sociological tract.

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