Fear in Crane's The Blue Hotel

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Fear in Crane's The Blue Hotel

Stephen Crane's "The Blue Hotel" is, according to Daniel Weiss, "an intensive study of fear." The story uses a game to show how fear unravels itself. He also discusses inner fears as opposed to fears existing in reality, and the ways that they bring each other about in this short story.

Weiss begins by pointing out how Crane used the stereotypical 1890's American West as his setting. The Swede comes to the Blues Hotel with the assumption that he will witness, if not be involved in, robberies and murders. The Swede was already experiencing inner fears about the West and when he was invited to join a friendly card game with Johnnie and the other customers of the Blue Hotel, his fears were heightened. When Scully calmed the Swede's nerves by giving him something to drink, the Swede undergoes a complete transformation and becomes what he considers to be a Westerner. The drinking, according to Weiss, returns the Swede to his original fears, but this time he isn't afraid, he is "cannibalistic", devouring his opponents and becoming very aggressive. He began "board-whacking" and eventually accused Johnnie of cheating. Weiss states that the card game was a "benign way for him to work off his aggressions harmlessly." However when Johnnie started cheating, the reality of crime and gambling set in and "the cheating restore[d] the game to the world of outlaws, professional gamblers, and gunmen." After the two fought and the Swede was triumphant, the Swede went on to the local saloon where he picked a fight and was killed by a professional gambler. The Swede was experiencing a high on power and liberation when he ordered the other men in the bar to drink with him. When he is stabbed, the Swede returns to his earlier disposition as a victim of the West.

Concerning "fear" in the story, Weiss says that "The Blue Hotel" deals with paranoid delusions. The Swede moves from "wary apprehension" to panic and "passive acceptance of annihilation", to becoming the aggressor and pursuer, then he regresses to being the pursued once again. He moves through these stages throughout the story and within the framework of the "game." Weiss writes that in order to avoid being hurt by his "pursuer", the Swede transforms himself into the pursuer. By moving from a panicked to a manic state, the Swede masters his feelings of self-esteem, alienation, and death.
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