An Experiment in Misery

by Stephen Crane

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

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The character is called “the youth” in “An Experiment in Misery” due to the youth’s particularly demeaning situation and the general dehumanizing quality of the big city.

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In Stephen Crane’s short story “An Experiment in Misery,” the main character goes by three primary names. The omniscient narrator refers to the protagonist as “the young man” and “the youth.” The assassin, the youth’s friend, sometimes calls him Willie. Interestingly enough, the narrator never calls the youth a proper name. For the narrator, the youth is either “the youth” or “the young man.”

The title of Crane’s short story might provide a clue as to why Crane’s narrator only refers to the main character as “the youth” or “the young man.” Perhaps Crane’s story can be read as a literary experiment. Crane wanted to see if he could center a narrative on a person whose actual name is never specifically acknowledged by the narrator.

The absence of a name might also relate to the misery of the youth. The youth’s conditions are too squalid and inhumane for him to be addressed as a person. It’s as if the beastly milieu of the youth necessitates a depersonalized treatment.

The youth’s less-than-human situation is brought to the forefront in the den scene when, trying to sleep, the youth sees “limbs wildly tossing in fantastic, nightmare gestures.” The youth then hears “guttural cries, grunts, oaths.” One could argue that this animalistic, monstrous environment prohibits the presence of something decent like a proper name.

It’s worth noting that the well-off people aren’t given proper names either. When the youth returns to City Hall Park, he observes people “in their good clothes” on their way to supposedly “important missions.” These privileged people are described as a “blend of black figures.” Maybe Crane called his character “the youth” not solely because of his demeaning poverty but because all people, regardless of their socioeconomic class, are dehumanized by the big, modern, capitalist city.

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

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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Why is the character called "the youth" in the story "An Experiment in Misery"?

In the short story "An Experiment in Misery" by Stephen Crane, a person identified only as "the youth" or "the young man" wanders among some of the poorest inhabitants of New York City. He eats free soup at a saloon, sleeps on a cot in a crowded dormitory, has breakfast at a cheap basement restaurant, and sits on a bench in a public park.

The odd thing about the protagonist is that though he is dressed in rags and is almost broke, this world of the poor seems to be new to him. The sights, sounds, and smells are unfamiliar and startling. Unlike most of the filthy denizens, the protagonist appears to be entering this stratum of society by choice. The title, "An Experiment in Misery," suggests that the protagonist may be doing this as an educational experience.

There are several reasons why Crane may have called the protagonist of this story "the youth" instead of giving him a name. Firstly, the meaning can be taken literally. The protagonist is physically younger than the other characters that Crane describes in the story.

Secondly, the protagonist's youth can refer to his inexperience in the world of the poor. As mentioned above, in some ways, he seems to be unfamiliar with this dirty and needy stratum of society, so he is a youth as far as experience is concerned.

Additionally, using a generic term like "the youth" instead of giving the protagonist a particular name gives the story the significance of a parable. The protagonist can be anybody, and it is easy for readers to more easily identify with the poverty-stricken young person.

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