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Everything Must Change, Stephen Crane

Stephen Crane was born on November 1, 1871. He was born into the Central Methodist Church in Newark. Crane was the fourteenth child of Mary Helen Peck and Reverend Dr. Jonathan Townley Crane Crane attended school in Ashbury Park, New Jersey, where one of his brothers operated a news agency. Crane attempted to spend his college years at Lafayette College. However, he flunked out and transferred to Syracuse University. There, he wrote on of his most prominent stories, “Maggie: A Girl Of the Streets” in 1891. Four years later, he finished writing his most well-known piece of work, The Red Badge of Courage.

He then traveled to Europe to report the Greco-Turkish War for the New York Journal. Travel sent him spiraling into debt. While in Badenweiler, Germany, Crane came down with tuberculosis compounded with a recurring malaria fever he caught from previous travels. Crane died on June 5, 1900. His bodied lied in a horse stall in London before it was returned to New York for services. Today, many recognize Crane as one of the greatest writers in American history In the story “The Bride Comes To Yellow Sky”, the Crane places the reader on a train with Jack Potter and his new bride.

The train ride back from San Antonio was a long and droning one. While Jack returns home, a group of men have a drink at the local Gentleman’s Saloon. The men either chat with the “all-knowing” bartender, or keep quiet. Suddenly, a man runs in to the bar and announces that Scratchy Wilson is drunk again. The Barkeeper locks the doors and the men inside start to worry. They worry because Jack, the town marshal, lacks a presence. As the Town Marshal, everyone knows Jack as the “guy that takes care of Scratchy Wilson”. So, Scratchy starts walking around the streets of Yellow Sky, drunk, and carrying a pistol.

He then pays a little visit to Jack’s house and tries to start a fight. However, when Scratchy discovers that Jack is not home, he turns and starts to walk away. As he walks, he stumbles into Jack and his wife. He then gets upset and tells Jack to try to shoot him. Jack, not carrying a weapon, informs Scratchy of his marriage and that he does not want to fight him. Scratchy, in disbelief, attempts to provoke him again. Jack again informs him that he is a newlywed and he does not have a gun. The message gets through this time as Scratchy accepts the information and walks into the horizon leaving Jack and bride to live “happily ever after”.

Some dub Crane the “Founder of the Naturalist Component of American Impressionism”. Most of his novels usually center around the theme of loneliness and consist of subjectivity dominated by social forces and colorist effects (Magill). Another overall theme for his stories is “each person . . . struggl[ing] with the insignificance of his existence alone without the aid of others” (Szumski). However, his story, “The Bride Comes to Yellow Sky”, varies from his usual writings. The theme given off in the story is that all things must change. Although references to loneliness and solitude exist, they only contribute to the main theme.

In “The Bride Comes to Yellow Sky”, Crane uses descriptions of color and character behavior to portray the theme of change in time. In most of Stephen Crane’s writings, he often uses a great deal of color imagery and references so the idea of what things really look like remains. In “The Bride Comes to Yellow Sky”, the title contains a color reference. The reader finds that the story takes place in the West. Old Western movies usually portray that the sun dominates the region, causing a yellow reflection in the sky. Often when a gunfight occurs, it takes place as the sun glares into the gunman’s eyes, causing a squint.

Therefore, the name, Yellow Sky, gives the illusion of the Old West and setting the reader in that time period. However, instead of the sun glaring over a gunfight, “shadows” do. Although the sun lacks any relation to the story, it still reflects a change. Crane presents Mr. Jack Potter as the man whose “face was reddened” wearing “new black clothes”, and sporting “brick-colored hands”. All three colors hold symbols that later repeat in the story. The red symbolizes excitement and energy.

However, Jack Potter spends the train ride home feeling “a sense of . . . ilt” and thinking about how “he had committed and extraordinary crime”. The black should symbolize power and formality whereas he fears the power of the community that may override his decisions. Finally, the “brick-color”, a mix of brown and red, symbolizes a mix of reliability and strength, both of which Jack lacks during the train ride (Wired 4 Success). Crane, who rarely speaks of Jack’s wife, assigns her some physical descriptions. She wears a “dress of blue cashmere”, which symbolizes peace and calmness. Jack’s wife displays the only piece of the story that lacks change.

Throughout the story, she remains calm, even though her new husband stresses over acceptance and Scratchy points a gun directly in their faces. Her actions, or lack there of, show how even though times change, some people abide by the same standards. However her existence itself causes things to change to begin with. Crane points out that the bride’s “face had gone yellow as old cloth”. Yellow symbolizes happiness and hope, which the couple displays. Crane introduces Scratchy Wilson as the “man in [the] maroon-colored flannel shirt, which had been purchased for purposes of decoration”.

The color maroon usually symbolizes patience in battle with a victorious outcome (Wired 4 Success). However, the reader learns the exact opposite in dealing with Scratchy. Crane shows Scratchy as eager to fight when he goes looking for Jack Potter. Then, he loses by omission when Jack refuses to fight, proving that maroon lacks the ability to give off victory. Flannel signifies warmth, or at least the capability to keep warm. However, because things change, scratchy wears warmer clothing in the desert instead of keeping cool. Crane also describes Scratchy as carrying a “long, heavy, blue-black revolver”.

Blue usually symbolizes peace while black symbolizes power (Wired 4 Success). However, since times change, Scratchy retains no power over Jack nor does he make peace with the gun. In the city of Yellow Sky, yellow, again, resembles happiness and joy. However, happiness appears in all of the characters except for Scratchy, since he walks away from the “gunfight” unsuccessful. So in the town of “optimism and idealism”, the color symbolism shows how the town appears as anything but happy, therefore showing how times change and how people change with them (Wired 4 Success).

Secondly, Crane uses behavioral descriptions to relate to the theme of change. Scratchy wilson parades down the street in Yellow Sky, looking for a fight, representing an inner needs for attention and respect. Scratchy’s needs correspond to the stereotypical “Old West”. However, since times change, Scratchy walks away from the gunfight, whereas in the “Old West” stories, he would shoot Jack. Jack, in turn, appears the same as Scratchy by not corresponding to the stereotype. Being the town marshal, the people of Yellow Sky respect Jack and find him reliable and dependable.

However, Jack leaves Yellow Sky for a few days to “meet the girl he believed he loved, and . . . actually induced her to marry him”. Behavior such as Jack’s violates typical Western behavior; the town marshal would normally not run off and marry someone the town unapproves of. Since things change, though, “the rules” accept his decision. Jack knows that his decision does against what he and the town believe in. For instance, he “turns these thoughts of guilt over in his mind, thinking how they will slink into town, tail tucked dutifully between his legs” (Stephen Crane’s Nasty Little Trick).

His thoughts of guilt consist of betraying the town and fearing their opinions. So, instead of resembling a brave and dominant figure, Jack Potter takes after that of a scared, worried one, showing that all things must change. The town marshal, Jack, also breaks a “frontier code” by going gunless (World Literature Criticism). According to the Old West, being prepared shows a natural instinct. In Jack’s case, however, he violates the code and puts love before safety. Either of Jack’s decisions hold a possibility of fatality. However, times change and Scratchy’s decision to walk away determines the fate of Jack’s existence.

Stephen Crane manages to pull off his theme of change in “The Bride Comes To Yellow Sky” by using a vast amount of color and behavioral descriptions. Jack’s character undergoes a transformation from a stereotype to an independent, “trend-setting” man. Scratchy Wilson also accomplishes overcoming a stereotype in order to prove that all things must change. As for the color descriptions, they form their own new symbols instead of conforming to that of the traditional. Crane’s writing often violates the typical writing style itself. So, in a sense, Crane helped time change as well as his stories.

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