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The Bride Comes to Yellow Sky

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Due to his experience and accomplishments as a poet, Stephen Crane’s prose style often demonstrates an attenuated sense of word connotation and symbolism, as well as a complex interrelationship between occurrences in plot and linguistic expression. This control of language is used in his famous story “The Bride Comes to Yellow Sky” to generate a unique variation of the  “frontier humor story,” one which admits allegorical and symbolic potency as well as plumbing to a thematic depth unusually reserved for more a formal idiom.

            The opening sentences of “The Bride Comes to Yellow Sky” signal Crane’s employment of compressed diction and symbolism: “The great Pullman was whirling onward with such dignity of motion that a glance from the window seemed simply to prove that the plains of Texas were pouring eastward . . . sweeping into the east, sweeping over the horizon, a precipice.”

            Certainly, this sample of Crane’s prose style in “The Bride Comes to Yellow Sky” removes any doubt in the reader’s mind as to whether or not the ensuing story will reach for thematic intensity. “In one vivid image, we’re prepared for the pathos and comedy attendant upon the civilizing pressure Eastern commerce exerted on the anarchic West of the 1890s” (Mccartney).

            Crane’s utilitarian use of the traditional elements of storytelling extends not only to his use of such choice and vivid, connotative words as “horizon” and “precipice” in his opening sentences, but also to his choice of character names which are intended to function as symbolic cues in his allegorically driven narrative. His poetic sensibilities could “also be brought to bear upon his choice of fictional names.” The name Jack Potter helps to “express the marshal’s personality and situation, as well as to help convey the theme and tone of the tale. The very blandness of his name stands in immediate contrast to what one would expect of a Texas marshal” (Petry 46).

            Similarly, the name of Jack’s antagonist, Scratchy Wilson helps to forward the allegorical connotations of the story which “may be interpreted as a type of Saturnalia, with Scratchy as a demonic figure, what with his “maroon-colored” shirt, red-topped boots, and face “flamed in a rage begot of whisky” (116-17). His name, too, connotes the demonic, for “Old Scratch” is a traditional nickname for the devil” (Petry 46).

            Hence, the story proffers a tone of building suspense and looming confrontation, both of which are gestures to the traditional “frontier” narrative, but,  Crane’s story also concerns internal, psychological matters of misogyny, love, and individuation, which are bolstered by the story’s sophisticated symbolism and language.

            Like a poem, the story provides both direct and indirect associations. The outward action of the story unfolds in a more or less more or less straightforward manner and along “classical” lines: an inevitable confrontation between two men, and one of them a gunslinger. However, the central thematic thrust of the story: which concerns individuation ans self-determination is revealed “only gradually, and some episodes are tangential–and is at the same time marked by directness. As befits the direct tradition, the pressures pointing toward a resolution are intense, all the more necessary for a story that seeks ultimately to deflate that pressure” (Hoffman 253).

         Crane melds a comic premise: that of a bachelor returning to his frontier friends unexpectedly as a married man, perhaps exposed to teasing and jibes, “with the language of tragedy. The “hour of daylight,” the hour to admit this “extraordinary crime” approaches; Potter prefers to put it out of mind, but the increasing familiarity of the landscape and the movement of the train make him “commensurately restless.”

            The linear opening of the story and its familiar setting and plot set-up help to obfuscate  conceal several much more experimental impulses also embodied in the tale. “Crane was what later generations would call an experimental writer that the sum of his work seems as discontinuous as we have found it to be […] This is true to a degree of his prose […] now in combination with a superbly controlled symbolistic style, the frontier humor of “The Bride Comes to Yellow Sky” (Hoffman 256).

            This experimentalism is partially homogenized within the traditional storytelling elements of “The Bride Comes to Yellow Sky,” and also subsumed within Crane’s own personal narrative idiom, “Although Crane’s experimentalism led him to absorb many technical influences that came his way, the unifying quality which makes these stories all unmistakably his own is the sensibility they express. The authority of his style, highly individual despite all these modifications, is the guarantee of the uniqueness of that sensibility” (Hoffman 256).

            In addition to Crane’s unexpected and unique juxtaposition of the complex symbolic diction of poetry with the linear style of a humorous frontier story, other blatant aspects of experimentalism can be discerned in “The Bride Comes to Yellow Sky,” particularly in Crane’s eventual disregard to linear narration or consistent narrative point of view.  “One way to express this vision is to invert linear narrative tale, for part of Crane’s point is that a mistaken linearity derived from a fictional convention […] Life brings down our expectations, and the appropriate vehicle for the discovery of our limitations is the anticlimactic ending” (Gerlach 73)

            The shifts in point of view  not only diverge form the classical or expected narrative form for frontier stories, they produce, in total, a compressed narrative which thereby embraces the diversity of the symbolic social microcosm. For example, “the drummer, recounting a tale of his own, is interrupted by a man who announces that Scratchy Wilson is drunk and on the loose. Through the drummer’s questions the reader learns of Scratchy’s desire for battle and the history of his run-ins with the marshal, all intensified by the drummer’s fear for his own hide” (Hoffman 253).

            Another important and unexpected  scene-shift in the story  goes to the point of view of the story’s antagonist: “Scratchy is roaring “menacing information,” “cries of fero-cious challenge” that ring against “walls of silence,” […]  But even if Scratchy is a man who enjoys the appearance of his rage, the comic undercutting to anyone familiar with “The Blue Hotel” does not diminish the possibility of a tragic outcome”

             The story;’s forward motion, like the train in the opening scenme, now plunges toward fulfillment; however, the “parody increases rather than decreases that expectation. The final image of this section, Scratchy bellowing in front of Potter’s empty home, “the spectacle of a man churning himself into deepest rage over the immobility of a house” (p. 118), shows the balance; the intensity of energy is in part the product of exaggeration, but that does not reduce the need for release and equilibrium” (Hoffman 254).

            The fourth and final scene returns to Potter and his wife, implying circularity and hence closure. Potter, slinking up to the rests as mentioned on “anticlimax” for a comic effect: the civilizing influence of the east is complete and the marriage of “opposites” achieved. This marriage applies not only tot he themes of the story but the marriage of seemingly disparate narrative idioms: the reflective poetic sophistication represented by Crane’s diction, symbolism, theme, and denouement; the straightforward frontier narrative accomplished by plot, setting and dialogue. In fact the closing paragraph of “The Bride Comes to Yellow Sky” is representative of the organic unity ultimately achieved by Crane via his experimental form:

“Well, I ‘low it’s off, Jack,” said Wilson. He was looking at the ground. “Married!” He was not a student of chivalry; it was merely that in the presence of this foreign condition he was a simple child of the earlier plains. He picked up his starboard revolver, and placing both weapons in their holsters, he went away. His feet made funnel-shaped tracks in the heavy sand.

Works Cited

Gerlach, John. Toward the End: Closure and Structure in the American Short Story. University, AL: University of Alabama Press, 1985.

Hoffman, Daniel. The Poetry of Stephen Crane. New York: Columbia University Press, 1957.

Mccartney, George. “The Only Impressionist.” National Review 30 Sept. 1988: 54+.

Petry, Alice Hall. “Crane’s the Bride Comes to Yellow Sky.” Explicator 42.1 (1983): 45-47.

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