Only Dull Readers Escape: Framing Humor and Materiality in Stephen Crane's The Black Riders and other lines

Graduation Year


Publication Date



Faculty Advisor: Michael Theune Research Honors Committe: Robert Bray, Christopher Callahan, and Wes Chapman

At the request of the author, this essay is not available for download. Bona fide researchers may consult it by visiting the University Archives in Tate Archives & Special Collections; contact archives@iwu.edu for details.


In this essay, I attempt to reorient the scholarship of Stephen Crane’s first book of poems, The Black Riders and other lines (1895), towards understanding the text’s affective purpose. I begin by illuminating the subtle but pervasive humor of The Black Riders, a critically underdeveloped, but nonetheless major, component of the reader’s experience; too often, it seems, this humor is marginalized by the assumption that Crane’s verse consists primarily of philosophical aphorisms meant to be taken seriously. After orienting my reader to the humor of the lines, I use Catherine Emmott’s Contextual Frame Theory as a model for the way readers engage the text; this theory, as I have applied it, accounts for the way our interpretive processes are shaped by our own “contextual frames,” which organize the information we receive from the text and the assumptions we make about it. Having established a frame of The Black Riders that recognizes its humor and, consequently, our own laughter response, I contend that we as readers will be primed to find ourselves directly subject to the condemnation of insensitive laughter contained in the text. The succeeding frame of The Black Riders as possessing both a subtle humor and a remarkable degree of reader interaction primes us to accept Jerome McGann’s claim about the “typographical wit” in Crane’s lines; this, in turn, establishes a new frame of typographical and material awareness that integrates the effects McGann has articulated and moves beyond them, ultimately incorporating another presentational feature, the original page turns.


English Language and Literature

This document is currently not available here.