What is the function of the drummer, the traveling salesman, in Part II of "The Bride Comes to Yellow Sky"?
In Part II of Stephen Crane’s short story “A Bride Comes to Yellow Sky,” he uses the drummer to create a dichotomy between the characters who are residents of the outpost town and the traveling salesman.
Yellow Sky is a sleepy, West Texas town. The traveling salesman is symbolic of the Eastern encroachment into the “wild west.” The locals in the bar, the “Weary Gentlemen,” are quiet, taciturn men either by nature or by choice. On the other hand, the newcomer is verbose and at ease calling attention to himself. When the men in the tavern are warned that Scratchy Wilson is on a drunken rampage, they understand the situation and act accordingly. To the newcomer this is foreign territory; he does not understand the danger of one of Scratchy’s drunken rampages and continues to loudly question what is to come.
But the information had made such an obvious cleft in every skull in the room that the drummer was obliged to see its importance. All had become instantly solemn. "Say," said he, mystified, "what is this?" His three companions made the introductory gesture of eloquent speech, but the young man at the door forestalled them.
"It means, my friend," he answered, as he came into the saloon, "that for the next two hours this town won't be a health resort."
Finally, the barkeeper convinces him to sit quietly behind the bar out of harm’s way while Scratchy shoots at the saloon door and narrowly misses the owner’s dog.
Crane creates a character who foreshadows what it is like to have a newcomer in town before Jack Potter officially introduces his new wife. A new woman in town, especially one who is married to the town marshal, brings a civility the town is unaccustomed to.
This minor flat character is used for both humour and detachment. His interruption upon the scene also precognizes an upcoming crisis as a sort of Greek chorus, Western style. It's the drum roll which builds suspense before the actual act is played out.
This character also helps maintain the lighthearted tone of the story. As this personna, the reader also observes without being emotionally caught up in an eventual small town shoot-out; he is, as the drummer, just "passing through:"
Crane is a deadpan satirist and mimic, prone to using cliches, stereotypes, and familiarities of plot episodes to spin out his yarns.
This tongue-in-cheek humour, use of "prefabricated" personae and emotional distancing could be considered in part the Crane trademark. The reader is not to take him too seriously, at least in his lighter works, but there is nevertheless a message lurking closely behind.