What is the significance of the setting in "The Bride comes to Yellow Sky?"
The setting of Stephen Crane's "The Bride Comes to Yellow Sky" is integral to the tone and mood that Crane establishes, but not for the expected reasons. This is a story that plays with the tropes and clichés of "Wild West" stories. The setting consists of a train and the small town of Yellow Sky itself. In the story, Jack Potter plays the role of marshal and Scratchy Wilson the role of local ruffian/troublemaker. The two have an established history of conflict, which makes the story seem like the typical tale that will end in a gunfight and the death of one of the two men. Crane plays with that idea, giving the reader enough to allow their preconceived notions to move them down that road, but at the same time with traditional tropes along the way.
For example: instead of exhibiting a rough confidence as "the sheriff character" often does, Marshall Potter fidgets, his hands "continually moving over his new black clothes in a most nervous manner" as he returns to Yellow Sky with his new wife. Rather than the secure, hardened hero, we are given a man who, although he has been through a lot in his life, finds himself nervous for the town to meet his wife, who "was not pretty, nor was she very young." Similarly, Scratchy Wilson is far from the typical villain, which is established in our introduction to him:
A man in a maroon-colored flannel shirt, which had been purchased for purposes of decoration and made, principally, by some Jewish women on the east side of New York, rounded a corner and walked into the middle of the main street of Yellow Sky. In either hand the man held a long, heavy, blue-black revolver.
While his weapons are threatening, Crane's mention of the maroon flannel, "purchased for purposes of decoration and made, principally, by some Jewish woman" presents a lighter tone. Rarely do we hear about the method and location of manufacture for the shirt of "the bad guy," nor do we often hear that the "bad guy" initially bought the shirt in an effort to look fancy.
The story continues in this way, establishing a cliché setting but presenting us with details that seem amiss, until the final moments when Marshal Potter and Scratchy Wilson meet in their final climactic battle. In that scene, Crane again uses the setting to surprise us as the Marshal comes around the side of his house and is shocked to see Scratchy banging at his door. Scratchy initially threatens to kill the unarmed marshal, as it would be very easy for him to pull the trigger and take revenge for the multitude of times he has been foiled, defeated, and humiliated by his arch-nemesis, but upon hearing the marshal is now married, Scratchy calls the entire feud off and walks away.
At the end of the tale, Scratchy's surprise resembles our own. Crane has cleverly set up a old west town only to have it evolve beyond swinging barroom doors and saloon music and include some level of empathy. Just as poor, nemesis-less Scratchy was suddenly "like a creature allowed a glimpse of another world," so to are we.
In Stephen Crane's short story, "The Bride Comes to Yellow Sky," Potter and his new wife travel to, and arrive in, the town of Yellow Sky. Jack Potter is the local marshal and has gone to San Antonio to bring home his new bride, who remains nameless in the story.
As the story begins, Crane provides the setting of the plains of Texas as Potter and his wife travel by railway:
Vast flats of green grass, dull-hued spaces of mesquite and cactus, little groups of frame houses, woods of light and tender trees, all were sweeping into the east, sweeping over the horizon, a precipice.
In that the marriage of Jack Potter and his wife is so new, the setting may be symbolic of the life the Potters are embarking on, much as the new life those on the Texan frontier are trying to build.
There are flat spaces of grass, mesquite and cacti; the color is described as "dull-hued," which means it lacks color, perhaps inferring that it lacks life, growth or prosperity because it has been there so little time. They pass clusters of little houses that are trying to thrive in this new and perhaps less than hospitable environment. The trees are young and "tender," sweeping into the east, an allusion that the east might be gentler to new settlers than the Texan frontier.
The setting of "newness and sparseness," and a sense that comes with it of building a new life and surviving seems to reflect directly upon Jack Potter in the step he has taken in bringing home a wife. While there may not be much of a relationship between them yet to speak of, in time there is the hope that the marriage will prosper as will the small communities described.