Themes and Meanings (Masterplots II: Short Story Series, Revised Edition)
“The Blue Hotel” deals with man’s vanities and illusions, which are absurd but, ironically, necessary for survival. Stephen Crane’s naturalistic tale presents a view of the world as beyond comprehension and indifferent to the inconsequential matters of mankind. According to the author, people are like lice clinging to “a whirling, fire-smitten, ice-locked, disease-stricken, space-lost bulb.”
Although “The Blue Hotel” is steeped in irony, Crane explores the conundrum between fate and moral choice. The story is elusive on whether human beings share moral responsibility for the consequences of their actions. The Swede’s fate is tragic and of his own making, yet who is to say whether it was the whiskey, given to him by the well-intentioned Scully, which turned him into a reckless fool? On one thing Crane is clear: Life is fragile.
Whether the Swede is trapped by his fixed idea about the environment or whether it is the environment that traps him, his death comes as quickly and easily as the slicing of a melon. The motto on the cash register implies that he deserves his fate, but, ironically, the message comes too late to save him, as his eyes are already glazed over by the shadow of death.
Perhaps literary critic J. C. Levenson best summarized the story’s enigmatic quality when he wrote: “Given the facts as presented, the story constructs a universe that defies every quest for certain meaning.” However, this...
(The entire section is 295 words.)
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By far the most important theme in the story is alienation and its dangerous consequences to the individual who feels estranged from the surrounding group, becoming vulnerable to the point of paranoia and self-destructive behavior. The oddly-behaving Swede, one of three strangers in town (the others being the Easterner and the cowboy), is such a person. However, only he feels so different from the others around him that he fears for his life; in fact he continues to draw unfavorable attention to himself by his emotional instability.
Another theme concerns honesty or lack of it, in one's dealings with others. Crane reveals the town's curious double standard when judging the acceptability of an individual's behavior. A professional gambler in Fort Romper, though a recognized "thieving card player," is considered to be the type of person labeled "square." He is described as generous, just, and a moral family man. That he preys on "an occasional unwary traveler" coming in on the train, or "reckless and senile farmers," proud and overly self-confident, is not considered a character flaw; they know "he would never dare think of attacking their wisdom and courage." But he is not regarded as respectable by the elite of Fort Romper, and is not even permitted as a spectator in the rooms of a prominent new social club. However, he accepts his rejection so straightforwardly and gently that his standing in the community is enhanced.
On the other hand,...
(The entire section is 742 words.)