The rhetorical war: Class, race and redemption in Spanish -American War fiction. Stephen Crane, Frank Norris, Richard Harding Davis and Sutton Griggs

David Scott Kramer, University of Rhode Island


One of the primary purposes and contributions of this study is to recover and discover a place in literary history for an under-examined genre: fiction of the Spanish-American War of 1898. While scholars have extensively described the general contours of Spanish-American War rhetoric, its literary representations have been largely overlooked. I argue that a close analysis of the fictions of Stephen Crane (1871-1900), Richard Harding Davis (1864-1916), Frank Norris (1870-1902) and Sutton Griggs (1872-1933) complicates our understanding of the Spanish-American War and the rhetoric it generated. Compared to the bloody wars immediately preceding and following it, the short, decisive and relatively trauma-free Spanish-American War---in which 348 American soldiers were killed in battle---was not a full-fledged conflict from a material standpoint, but it was a full-fledged rhetorical war. Situated within late nineteenth century contexts that constructed war as a moral, cultural and social panacea, Spanish-American War rhetoric represented war as an antidote for middle class anxieties, a vehicle for uniting and strengthening a divided nation through foreign conquest, and a staging ground for American men to test and prove their collective manhood. The battlefields of Cuba, in which so little actual fighting took place, can be imagined as sites for fighting out this rhetorical war. Written for white, middle class audiences, the short stories of Crane, Davis and Norris are neither anti-war, pacifistic, nor critical of the Cuban Campaign itself, whose battlefields are represented as unalloyed American triumphs. In this sense, Crane, Davis and Norris participate in dominant constructions of the Spanish-American War as a political or ideological success. At the same time, their stories register dissonance and dissatisfaction, casting doubt upon how war can be imagined as a template for cultural restoration and redemption. Set against the unfulfilled expectation that the heroics of black soldiers in the Cuban Campaign could bring about the transformation of white attitudes toward the nation's African-American population, Sutton Griggs's Imperium in Imperio problematizes war as the imagined site of racial redemption. These fictions illuminate the "ideological investments" at stake in the production and consumption of Spanish-American War rhetoric.

Subject Area

American literature|Rhetoric|Composition

Recommended Citation

David Scott Kramer, "The rhetorical war: Class, race and redemption in Spanish -American War fiction. Stephen Crane, Frank Norris, Richard Harding Davis and Sutton Griggs" (2006). Dissertations and Master's Theses (Campus Access). Paper AAI3239910.