An Experiment in Misery

by Stephen Crane
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Why is the character in "An Experiment in Misery" called "the youth"?

The character is called "the youth" because he stands as a symbol of hopelessness for many young men of his age forced to engage in a daily fight for survival on the streets of America's cities. This is also a way of emphasizing just how much homelessness and poverty strip people of their individual identity.

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The protagonist in Crane's short story "An Experiment in Misery" is unnamed. In fact, he's referred to as a "youth" or a "young man."

There are two main reasons for this. First and foremost, Crane intends his youth to stand as a symbol for many other young men...

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The protagonist in Crane's short story "An Experiment in Misery" is unnamed. In fact, he's referred to as a "youth" or a "young man."

There are two main reasons for this. First and foremost, Crane intends his youth to stand as a symbol for many other young men in his position forced to engage in a desperate fight for survival on the mean streets of America's cities. The youth in the story represents so much more than himself; he stands for goodness knows how many other people in the exact same predicament as himself.

Turning his main character into a symbol this way allows Crane to deal with both the general and the particular, the plight of homeless young men as a whole and the effects of homelessness upon a single individual. Putting a human face on the scandal of homelessness and all its attendant poverty and misery makes it easier for the reader to identify and empathize with those at the very bottom of the heap.

The second reason that the protagonist is unnamed is that it emphasizes the dehumanization of homelessness and poverty and how it strips individuals of their identity.

Without money, without a home, without the normal network of human relationships and connections we so often take for granted, the young man is just another face in the crowd. He is anonymous, just one of many young men struggling each day to keep body and soul together.

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