The Blue Hotel Summary

Stephen Crane

The Blue Hotel

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The Blue Hotel Summary

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The Blue Hotel is a short story by Stephen Crane published in 1898 in two installments. It tells the story of a group of people who experience something extraordinary in the middle of their ordinary lives. It features a style of writing not common in American literature of that time, expressionism.

The story begins with five men in the American West in the late 1800s. It opens in the Palace Hotel, affectionately referred to as The Blue Hotel after its proprietor paints it blue. The proprietor, Pat, meets the train twice a day to lure patrons to stay there.

One particular day, he gets three people to follow him there, a Swede, an Easterner, and a cowboy. It is a cold winter day, and when they meet at the front of the hotel, Johnnie, Pat’s son, and a grizzled farmer are playing cards in front of the fire. Pat and his three new guests soon join them. Everything is going well until the Swede suddenly asks how many men have been killed in the room.

The men don’t understand what he’s talking about, and Johnnie is amazed by the strangeness of the question. The Swede grows more and more uncomfortable with the atmosphere in the room, until he is convinced that the men are banding together to kill him. He gathers his things and prepares to leave, and Pat, who is unwilling to lose a customer, gives him a drink from the whiskey he’s been hiding.

The Swede relaxes and returns to the game. He is boisterous, and after dinner, the card game resumes. The Swede then accuses Johnnie of cheating, which was a serious accusation at that time in history, and they are unable to settle their differences. They go out into the blizzard to fight it out physically.

The Swede defeats Johnnie, and Pat helps him back to the hotel. The Swede finds his way to a bar with a few patrons and begins to drink again. He grows angrier, and people ignore him as he tries to talk to everyone. He demands that someone drink with him, but everyone refuses.

He makes his way to a table where a few men are playing, including a reputable gambler. He puts his hand on the gambler’s shoulder. The gambler asks him politely to remove it, but the Swede puts his hands on his throat. At this, the gambler stabs him and leaves him on the floor dead.

A few months later, the cowboy is in another territory when he sees the Easterner again. The Easterner tells him that the gambler got three years for murdering the Swede, and they discuss whether or not this punishment was fair. The Easterner tells the cowboy that Johnnie was cheating, and the cowboy then blames the bartender for not stopping the altercation that followed the fight. The Easterner proclaims that all parties are to blame for standing aside and letting the events unfold as they did. The cowboy ends the story saying “Well, I didn’t do anything, did I?”

The most important theme of the story is alienation and what that can do to the human psyche. The town is already isolated, and winter makes it an even drearier place. The Swede is already estranged from the group, and this isolation causes increasing paranoia. The events that result from his paranoid behavior leave the Swede dead and change the life of the gambler forever.

As a stranger, the Swede’s sense of isolation  causes him to fear for his life, and he does things that increasingly draw negative attention to himself. This negative attention puts him in situations that put his life at further risk and this vicious cycle continues. Eventually, it leads to his death.

Fear is something that people face continually and understanding that fear can have a huge impact on our behavior. The Swede’s fear is his undoing. It propels him towards what he is most afraid of, losing his life.

The story is ironic because the Swede fears losing his life but his attempts to escape death only drive him closer towards it.  Crane leaves it to us to decide if the Swede’s attitude and actions trap him in an environment that will ultimately kill him, or if the environment is the trap. We do not know if nature is cruel and indifferent to humankind, or if our ideas about the environment are our undoing.

The story is a haunting look at man’s quest to overcome his environment. We cannot always free ourselves from our fate, and sometimes our fears drive us further towards what we wish to avoid. The Blue Hotel demands that we consider our deepest fears and whether our fate is already determined.