Making An Orator
Stephen Crane

MAKING AN ORATOR by Stephen Crane
   N o t e s    o n    t h e    T e x t

These are the same notes that appear below the text. Clicking on the numbers will take you to the appropriate passages in the text.

1 "Making an Orator" was first published in 1899. It is part of a semi-autobiographical collection of stories about boyhood called "Whilomville Stories."
2 The ability to speak publicly was highly regarded in the 19th century, and dramatic recitations were a regular part of the school curriculum. The orations were usually drawn from poetry or famous speeches, though on some occasions students created their own speeches. They had to be memorized and delivered to the class, and in many schools they were delivered in front of the community during end-of-the-year exercises.
3 Some authors, like Crane, hated these forced speeches, but others applauded them for building students' confidence and giving them public speaking skills. Twain was one who weighed in on the negative in "Tom Sawyer," though with far less bitterness than Crane expresses.
4 Crane touches on one of the hallmarks of 19th century common school education: memorization was more highly valued than understanding. Students were expected to memorize literary passages as well as names, dates, geographical information and mathematical formulae, but the concepts behind the information were given far less emphasis.
5 Throughout the stories in "Whilomville Tales," Crane dwells on the children's cruelty toward their friends and schoolmates. They pick on one another's weaknesses, goad reluctant combatants into battle, dare each other to perform foolish and dangerous deeds, and watch the trials of their comrades with unbridled glee. In all this, Crane isn't so much criticizing the children as presenting what he sees as an honest depiction of their amoral world.
6 "Making an Orator" ends on a somewhat different note than the other stories in "Whilomville Tales." Though many of them conclude without reaching a happy ending, all the others have endings that are simply transitory moments in the lives of the children. But in this story, the concluding event creates a trauma that would render the child permanently incapable of speaking in public: "...on this day there had been laid for him the foundation of a finished incapacity for public speaking which would be his until he died."
   Unlike the other cruelties in other stories, this one is inflicted on the children by adults, which may explain its more lasting effects. When Crane refers to the next child who must speak in front of the class as "the next victim of education," he makes it clear that he looks back on his schooling with some bitterness.