Summary (Masterplots II: Short Story Series, Revised Edition)
The light blue hue of the Palace Hotel, like the shade of a heron’s legs, is a striking sight to railway passengers disembarking at Fort Romper, Nebraska. Its owner, Irishman Pat Scully, personally meets the morning and evening trains to “work his seductions” on potential customers. One wintry morning he collars three such “prisoners,” a “shaky and quick-eyed” Swede from New York, a Dakota cowboy named Bill, and Mr. Blanc, a “little silent” easterner. In the hotel’s small front room, the guests come on an old farmer and Scully’s son Johnnie playing a card game called high-five. A conscientious host, Scully furnishes the guests with water and towels, gets Johnnie to take their baggage upstairs, and confers with his wife and daughters about the midday meal. Outside, the snow and the wind are reaching blizzard proportions.
Almost immediately, the Swede begins behaving peculiarly. Nervous and defensive, he laughingly asserts that “some of these Western communities were very dangerous.” When a quarrel terminates the card game between Johnnie and the farmer, the Swede joins the table, pairing up with Mr. Blanc against Johnnie and Bill. The latter is a “board whacker,” which unhinges the Swede. Whenever the cowboy played a winning card, he “whanged” it on the table, causing Johnnie to chuckle. Suddenly, the Swede says, “I suppose there have been a good many men killed in this room.” Astonished, the others take issue with him. Believing his life in danger, the Swede pleads that he does not want to fight.
“Have you gone daffy?” Scully asks him while the Swede is packing upstairs: “We’re goin’ to have a line of ilictric street-cars in this town next spring. . . . Not to mintion the four churches and the smashin’ big brick school-house.” Refusing to accept money for the room, Scully shows him a portrait of his deceased daughter Carrie and his elder son, who is an attorney in Lincoln. Bringing out a bottle of whiskey, he insists that the Swede take a drink.
Downstairs, the men argue about the Swede’s abnormal behavior. The cowboy thinks him a phony, “some kind of a Dutchman,” while Mr. Blanc figures he was frightened by Western dime-novels....
(The entire section is 907 words.)
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Summary (Magill's Survey of American Literature, Revised Edition)
In “The Blue Hotel,” a group of strangers comes together in a small isolated hotel, a refuge from the storm outside. Isolating characters in this way is a common plot device in both mainstream and mystery fiction—and Crane’s story is a suspense thriller, whatever its larger meanings. People in such a situation, unconstrained by the laws and traditions of a larger society, become a society in themselves; under the additional pressure imposed by unfamiliar and unpredictable events, they reveal their truest and deepest values. In this story, as in “The Open Boat,” the implications are universal.
“The Palace Hotel at Fort Romper was painted a light blue . . . screaming and howling in a way that made the dazzling winter landscape of Nebraska seem only a gray swampish hush.” What is the significance—beyond the spelled-out realistic one that it makes the hotel visible to travelers—of the unusual color? Bright primary colors, as in The Red Badge of Courage and “The Bride Comes to Yellow Sky,” appealed to Crane. Here the color occurs again later, when the characters go outside to fight: “The covered land was blue with the sheen of an unearthly satin.” The suggestion is fundamental to an understanding of the story: The blue hotel is no refuge from the storm, because the characters carry the storm—uncontrolled violence and hatred—within them.
The three guests who come to the hotel owned by Pat Scully, and run by him with the help of his son Johnnie, are “a tall bronzed cowboy,” “a silent little man from the East,” and a “shaky and quick-eyed Swede”—characters from widely spaced places who, as in “The Open Boat,” are never given names. That the hotel is anything but a safe harbor, a place of peace and love, is revealed at once; the small room “seemed to be merely a proper temple for an enormous stove, which, in the center, was humming with godlike violence.” Johnnie Scully is playing cards and quarreling with an old farmer. Pat Scully loudly “destroys the game of cards,” sending his son up with the baggage. The...
(The entire section is 856 words.)