Mann, Thomas. “Railway Accident.” The Story: A Critical Anthology, edited by Mark Schorer, Prentice-Hall, Inc., 1959, pp. 6-20.
In this short story, written by Thomas Mann, the author recounts on his experience with a railway incident. As Mann prepared to travel to Dresden to visit a few of his friends, he boarded a train, as well as observing all of the other passengers. While enjoying the pleasures of a free first-class car, the narrator described the characters that also chose to spend their peaceful trip in the luxurious first-class car. A few peculiar individuals stuck out as they acted in such specific manners; for example, one man of higher social class, who ironically lacked any form of class, caused ruckus by disrespecting the ticket master. Shortly after decided to turn in for the night, the narrator was jolted as all the cars experienced a shocking jerk, resulting in luggage launched within the cars. Confusion and slight hysteria ensued as passengers poured out of their respective cars into the hallways. Later the train attendant announced and commanded the passengers to evacuate the train because it had been derailed and now rested in the path of a different set of tracks. Once outside the train, the narrator realized how serious the crash was, as he was later informed that a “great catastrophe” had been averted because the engine driver pulled the emergency brake “at the last possible moment.” Without his heroic act the train would have launched itself into a nearby embankment, instead of ramming into the latter part of a stationary freight train. Finally the displaced passengers were placed in another train; however, the author did not enjoy the same previous comforts as many passengers upgraded to first-class cars in a futile attempt to feel more secure.
Mann’s short story is yet another example of negative depiction of trains and railway transport, with the inclusion of a stereotype. While introducing the topic of his short story, Mann prefaced his story with the statement that “[the accident] was not really a first-class one—no wholesale telescoping or ‘heaps of unidentifiable dead’—not that sort of thing. Still, it was a proper accident, with all of the trimmings, and on top of that it was at night” (Mann, 6). Beginning in the introduction, the tone of the story has a flair for the dramatics and will exploit the fears of the public in order to gain notice of the audience. Riddled with aggrandized diction, such as catastrophe, the recount evokes a vivid depiction of the events as well as a strong emotional response. Stories like Mann’s result in the publics lack of trust within trains and railway transportation, fearing that a similar accident may occur when they use this mode of transport. In return for a more attractive story, the reputation of the railway has been damaged, resulting in a decrease in usage. Questions that arise out of this source include: How factual was this account of the accident? Did the author exaggerate in order to produce a more exciting piece or was that his genuine experience?