This semester, I taught Stephen Crane’s “The Bride Comes to Yellow Sky” for the first time, and there are a few aspects of the story that I think are worth considering. The first item is a hypothetical exploration of the voices we hear in the text, specifically the voices of the drummer and the eponymous bride. The second has to do with the interactions between the east and the west that are already occurring within Yellow Sky before Potter and his new bride arrive back in the town. These two items provide interesting discussions within class and will help students think not just about the story’s themes but also about Crane’s aesthetic choices and how those choices affect our reading of the story.
While most of the work I have read by Stephen Crane fits firmly within the genre of naturalism, “The Bride Comes to Yellow Sky” is a regionalist story. It focuses on a geographic area, the Southwest, and Texas more specifically. It looks at the community and the way that community is coming face-to-face with change from the outside, notably its demise due to the civilizing encroachment of the east. One of the key characteristics of regionalism is the presence of an outsider to the community, and this outsider serves as an extension of the narrator, allowing the urban audience to observe to community. In Crane’s story, there are two distinct outsiders: the drummer and the bride.
While the drummer and the bride are both outsiders to Yellow Sky, only the drummer really speaks. The drummer only appears in part 2 of the story, and his sole purpose is to provide a means of telling the audience about Scratchy Wilson’s drunken tirades and how Jack Potter calms him down. Without the drummer, the audience would be left wondering why Scratchy acts the ways that he does and shoots up the town.
We do not know where the drummer is from. All we learn about him at the beginning of the section is that he “he talked a great deal and rapidly.” We do know, however, that he is not from the region because the very next phrase mentions that three men in the saloon were Texans. When a man enters and tells the occupants of the saloon that Scratchy is drunk, everyone, save the “innocent and jocular” drummer leaves the saloon out the rear exit. The drummer does not know about Scratchy. If he did know, and he left, then we would not learn anything else about Scratchy’s outbursts.
As the man tells the drummer that there will be a gun fight, the drummer debates what to do. He oscillates “between the interest of a foreigner and a perception of personal danger,” and ultimately his inquisitiveness wins. The remaining men in the saloon bar the door and inform the drummer that Scratchy cannot break it down. The conversation continues and the men tell the drummer about Potter and how he fights Scratchy to calm him down.
The drummer wishes to ask more questions, and when he starts to ask them, “the men merely looked at him in irritation and motioned him to remain silent.” The drummer acquiesces and eventually takes cover behind the bar with the barkeeper. Behind the bar, the barkeeper tells the drummer that Scratchy “‘s bout the last one of the old gang that used to hang out along the river here.” This information is important considering the theme of the story. If the drummer was not present, would the audience learn this fact about Scratchy? Maybe, maybe not.
How could the audience learn information about Scratchy from an outsider if the drummer was not present? The only other option would be the bride; however, that would alter the story. How would the bride’s perspective change the way we read the story? For one, she is invested in the community, at least as far as her marriage to Potter allows. They are newly married, and even their relationship shows the tensions that Scratchy and Potter’s confrontation highlight. They are not completely unified yet, and Potter even fears the reception he will receive once he returns to Yellow Sky because he married without their blessing.
If the wife serves as the outside perspective, the narrative would probably be more skewed. The drummer serves merely as an observer, nothing more. The bride, however, has a stake in the community, even though she is not part of the community yet. She has married Potter and will become part of Yellow Sky. In this way, she probably has some thoughts about how to civilize Yellow Sky. Because of this, she would differ dramatically from the drummer. It would be interesting to have students think about this and possibly consider what would change if the bride serves as the voice of the outsider instead of the drummer.
The other aspect I want to look at, briefly, has to do with the ways that Yellow Sky is already under the influence of the east. In this manner, the story lends itself to critical regionalism, a concept that, as Donna Campbell puts it, thinks about “regionalism as always global and cosmopolitan, intricately enmeshed in circuits of trade and diverse cultures in ways that belie its pretense at being ‘merely’ local in conception and subject matter.” We see this intricate emeshing at the beginning of part 3 when we see Scratchy Wilson for the first time.
A man in a maroon-colored flannel shirt, which had been purchased for purposes of decoration, and made principally by some Jewish women on the East Side of New York, rounded a corner and walked into the middle of the main street of Yellow Sky. In either hand the man held a long, heavy, blue-black revolver. Often he yelled, and these cries rang through a semblance of a deserted village, shrilly flying over the roofs in a volume that seemed to have no relation to the ordinary vocal strength of a man. It was as if the surrounding stillness formed the arch of a tomb over him. These cries of ferocious challenge rang against walls of silence. And his boots had red tops with gilded imprints, of the kind beloved in winter by little sledding boys on the hillsides of New England.
Within this description, we see the close of the west through images such as “the deserted village” and the stillness that appears like “the arch of a tomb over” Scratchy. As well, we see that this process did not start with the entrance of the bride into the community. Rather, the “circuits of trade and diverse cultures” have been influencing Yellow Sky long before the bride. This becomes clear with the knowledge that “Jewish women on the East Side of New York” made his shirt and that his books look like the ones that “little sledding boys on the hillsides of New England wear.” We do not know if Scratchy has been east. That does not matter. What does matter is the fact that these items have made their way to Yellow Sky.
This is not all that could, and should, be discussed with Crane’s story. However, these are the items that I found most interesting. What are your thoughts? As usual, let me know in the comments below. Make sure to follow me on Twitter @silaslapham.
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