In the short story "The Bride Comes To Yellow Sky" what is the difference between Jack Potter and Scratchy Wilson?

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andrewnightingale eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The most obvious difference is that Jack Potter is the law and Scratchy Wilson the bandit. Each fulfills a particular purpose in this typical frontier town—a place where men supposedly lived fast and loose. The two men represent archetypes associated with the so-called Wild West—one good and one bad—and are symbols of the stereotypical protagonist and antagonist who generally face off in the end.

Jack has decided to become cultured and settled by getting married, while Scratchy has clearly retained his old vagabond habits and will not change anytime soon. While Jack obviously is much admired by the residents of Yellow Sky, it is clear that Scratchy is feared and probably much disliked. Jack displays a gentleness which Scratchy evidently lacks.

Jack is the epitome of decency, while Scratchy, in his drunken state, is like an animal, driven and encouraged (by alcohol) to express his anger and frustration. This difference is clearly emphasized by the manner in which Jack treats his new bride, in contrast to the remarks made about Scratchy by those in the saloon. Furthermore, it should be obvious that in the town's hierarchy, Jack occupies a position of authority, while Scratchy is regarded with derision for being the typical town drunk and troublemaker. 

Jack, therefore, ensures the safety and protection of those under his watch, while Scratchy poses a threat. When he comes into town drunk, he spreads mayhem. Jack, conversely, is there to provide peace—he is, evidently, the only one in Yellow Sky that can subdue the aggressive Scratchy.

In the greater scheme of things, the two men, in this microcosm, are symbols of good and evil. Ironically, though, both retain a bit of the other as well. Jack, for example, feels guilty about betraying the townsfolk and not trusting them enough to tell them about getting married, while Scratchy, even in his drunken state, displays some decency when he abandons his attack on Jack upon discovering that he is married.

Finally, Jack represents the changing, more civilized way of life heralded by the arrival of the railroad (which brings more women to town), while Scratchy typifies the old rough and tumble way of life that was quintessential to the Wild West.

mwestwood eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Jack Potter is the protagonist and Scratchy Wilson is the antagonist of Stephen Crane's short story "The Bride Comes to Yellow Sky."

Like characters out of the old dime Westerns, Jack Potter is the somewhat awkward sheriff, who fights outlaws and controls the town rowdies. But in this narrative, he has stolen away from his town. As he rides the train back to his town, Potter is anxious about the residents, to whom he owes protection, and how they will react to his secret marriage. 

As a matter of truth, Jack Potter was beginning to find the shadow of a deed weigh upon him like a leaden slab.

Potter transforms himself from the Old West law man, the stereotypical hero of the frontier, into a solid married man of the New West. As this new citizen, he confronts "[A] man in a maroon-colored flannel shirt," who holds a long, heavy blue-black revolver. This man, Scratchy Snake, has come to shoot Potter. The two men mark the end of an era; it's apparent that with the arrival of women and families, the West will soon be civilized.

"I ain't got a gun because I've just come from San Anton' with my wife. I'm married," said Potter. "And if I'd thought there was going to be any galoots like you prowling around when I brought my wife home, I'd had a gun, and don' you forget it."

"Married?" said Scratchy "Is this the lady?"
"Yes, this is the lady," answered Potter.
There was another period of silence, and the man...was like a creature allowed a glimpse of another world.

Scratchy says with disappointment, "Well, I 'low its's off, Jack." And he replaces his guns in his holsters and shuffles away in disappointment and defeat that the wildness of his town may soon end with the arrival of this and future women. 

parkerlee eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Both are "town boys" but are antipodes of each other. Potter is a respected sheriff who has earned his medals, so to speak, while Scratchy is the local bum who gets rowdy and even dangerous when on a drinking bout.

Both of these characters have another thing in common - they are flat characters who do not evolve as the story progresses. Rather, they are humoristic stereotypes (which Crane often used in his stories). They lack depth but nevertheless play an important role in the both the story line and conflict of a very simplified plot.

The build-up of suspense followed briskly by a denouement of no consequence is much like the firecracker that never went off. This keeps both Potter and Scratchy far from the hero-villain roles which antipodes often play. Once again, they are just local fellows avoiding a scruffle. Nobody really cares about the colour of their hats...

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The Bride Comes to Yellow Sky

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