The Bride Comes To Yellow Sky Summary

Stephen Crane

The Bride Comes To Yellow Sky

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The Bride Comes To Yellow Sky Summary

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The Bride Comes to Yellow Sky is a short story by Stephen Crane published in 1898. It tells the story of a local Marshall who, on returning to town after his marriage, is saved from a gunfight by the sight of his bride.

In the opening scene, a train comes barreling in from the east heading towards the town of Yellow Sky. Riding the train are U.S. Marshall Jack Potter and his new bride. They are happy, but feel somewhat shy in each other’s company. The train is more opulent than anything they are used to, and they are not sure how to conduct themselves. The passengers notice their awkwardness and tease them just a little.

When the train gets closer to town, Potter gets visibly anxious. He doesn’t know how the people of the town will react to his new married state. He feels like he should have warned them, but, in a moment of cowardice, decided against sending a telegram. Mrs. Potter understands her husband’s reservations, and they both wait anxiously for the train to arrive in the town.

Meanwhile, in the Weary Gentleman Saloon, six men are gathered. They are enjoying their afternoon when a person bursts into the saloon and tells them that Scratchy Wilson is drunk and looking for a fight.

Some of the men leave immediately, and the bartender begins closing up shop. One man, a drummer from the east, doesn’t seem to understand the significance of this news. The others explain that Scratchy Wilson is an excellent gunman, but that he is a drunk and likes to challenge people to fight when he drinks. The only person who will stand up to him is Jack Potter who is out of town. The bartender wishes Jack were around and the men wait as they hear gunshots in the distance.

Scratchy Wilson prowls through the streets with two revolvers. He challenges anyone who will listen to a fight, but no one responds. He makes his way to the saloon and pounds on the door. When no one answers, he sticks a piece of paper to the door with his knife and uses it for target practice.

In frustration, he makes his way to Jack’s house. Jack is there waiting to introduce his bride to everyone. When Scratchy arrives, he demands that Jack fight him, but Jack is unwilling to do so. He tells him that he isn’t carrying a gun.

Scratchy accuses Potter of trying to ambush him. When he asks why Jack is unarmed, Jack tells him that he’s just come from San Antonio where he got married. This news stuns Scratchy. He realizes that Potter’s marriage has changed their adversarial relationship and he retreats.

One of the central themes of the story is that of change. In traditional western stories, there was little humor and little room for true human interaction. In this story, Stephen Crane uses a bit of humor to highlight the very human relationships that exist between the citizens of the town. Potter and his bride are another source of gentle comedy in that their hasty marriage has left them both exhilarated and awkward with each other. They aren’t sure how to behave towards each other.

Scratchy is also a humorous figure. He represents  a stereotypical old west persona, someone who is always looking for a fight. He is wild, and the language of the story portrays him as an animal. When he is unable to find someone to satisfy his urge to fight, he heads to Potter’s house because he knows that Potter will respond.

When he arrives, it takes him some time to realize that Potter has a wife now. He doesn’t understand why Potter isn’t behaving the way he expects him to. Instead of a gun, Potter now has a wife, and this changes their antagonistic relationship forever. Scratchy says that it’s “all off now”, suggesting that their antagonism has been a well-established song and dance.

Change is difficult. At the time of the story’s publication, the old west was changing. Trains provided better access from the cities, and some of the old patterns of behavior were fading. The train the couple rode back into town is itself a symbol of the changing times. Potter’s relationship with the town, as a wild west US Marshall, will change when they begin to see him as a married man, rather than as a single, and, it is implied, stereotypical, Marshall.

Potter is concerned about how the town will receive him now that he’s changed his role. He’s still the Marshall, but settling down might affect how the people of the town treat him. His days of gunslinging and prowling around town in his own way are likely over. As a married man, he represents a different kind of masculinity than he did before, which in turn changes how he is perceived by others.

Mrs. Potter’s presence is good for the town because now that Scratchy cannot play with the Marshall’s life, he must find his fight elsewhere. This kind of change is inevitable, even in the  old west, and Scratchy, Potter, and Yellow Sky are forever altered.