Once upon a time there was the West, and the West was wild. Trails needed to be blazed, and Indians to be fought. To overcome such hardships and obstacles, men needed to be just as tough, rugged, and untamed as the landscape that they braved. In a time when American people needed heroes, those men who conquered the Western frontier became the objects of admiration and wonder. Furthermore, they set a standard of physical strength and violent self-reliance to be met by anyone who decided to settle in the West for it was a place of toughness, conflict, and courage. In Stephen Crane's "The Bride Comes to Yellow Sky," Scratchy Wilson and Jack Potter seem to possess those qualities required of a "Western man." Through their voices, the legend of the West emerges in Crane's story. At the same time, though, their voices are only part of a discourse of voices in the story that eulogizes the death of the Old West and the coming of civilization. Even as it celebrates the Old West, Crane's story ambivalently dramatizes its passing.
Included in the collection of voices in "The Bride Comes to Yellow Sky" are those of the drummer and the bartender of the Weary Gentleman saloon. The town of Yellow Sky has, of course, a typical frontier saloon where the men gather to drink whiskey. The barkeeper's dog lounges outside the front door, taking in the scene of a dusty little town whose name, Yellow Sky, even suggests that the town is a part of a natural landscape that is vast but beautiful. When shooting suddenly starts in the street, the reader discovers with the drummer how quickly a sleepy Old Western town can turn violent. Scratchy Wilson is responsible for the shooting, the barten...
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...d West desperado.
The last vestige of this desperado is the ritual that he participates in when he fights Potter in the street. In his confrontation with Potter and the bride, though, even that is taken away. The idea of marriage is so foreign to Scratchy that he decides "'it's all off now'" (122). More than one particular fight is off. Everything that was once traditional in Yellow Sky is also off. Civilization has tamed Scratchy Wilson and Jack Potter -- the last men from the Old West.
With wry humor, then, Stephen Crane marks the passing of the Old West in "The Bride Comes to Yellow Sky." But one thing still remains and endures: the myth that Crane both mourns and celebrates.
Crane, Stephen. "The Bride Comes to Yellow Sky." 1925. Short Story Masterpieces. Ed. Robert Penn Warren and Albert Erskine. New York: Laurel, 1982. 110-122.
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