One of Crane's biographers calls his short and adventurous life "enigmatic" and his psyche "baffling and unavailable"; Crane's prose has been difficult to categorize, and his poetry has often been ignored or dismissed as cryptic. My effort to understand Crane is based first on a consideration of his poetry as a struggle for a personal faith and second on a spiritual analysis of his characteristics patterns of illness and the circumstances surrounding the decline of his health and his early death. I argue that the prevailing view of Crane as the boy-genius who sprang into literary life with an intact vision of human behavior (which he then went on to express) is based on an impoverished notion of creative genius, and I try instead to demonstrate the conflict that one can detect in Crane's writing and his life, a conflict that I assert has everything to do with his death at the age of twenty-eight: a tragic struggle between a mystic faith in solitude and self-revelation (that he eventually betrays) and a hard-boiled assertion of social and artistic conscience. I further argue that Crane's inner struggle has tremendous literary significance because it anticipates two very different twentienth-century movements in American letters and the tension between them-"expressionist" writers on the one hand and the modernists on the other.
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