The two most prominent and important symbols in "The Bride Comes to Yellow Sky" are the railroad train and the bride herself. The story opens with the newlyweds on board the train headed west towards the town of Yellow Sky.
The great Pullman was whirling onward with such dignity of motion that a glance from the window seemed simply to prove that the plains of Texas were pouriing eastward.
That is a good sentence. The train does not seem to be moving forward so much as the land seems to be flowing backwards. The powerful, unstoppable machine symbolizes progress and change. The tracks symbolize the conquest of nature and of the native inhabitants. The rails cover one thousand miles of Texas from east to west, opening the continent to an influx of settlers. Yellow Sky is a typical rip-roaring Western town that is due to be transformed by the relentless tide of progress.
The bride was not pretty, nor was she very young.
Women had more to do with taming the Wild West than any other force. Stephen Crane describes this one particular woman in unflattering terms. She is symbolic of many of the women who were lured to the West because, to put it in simple terms, they wanted to get married and they weren't getting any younger and they knew that the West was full of unmarried men who would welcome them.
The women wanted to get married. Getting married meant having children. Having children meant needing schools and churches and all the other amenities of civilization which the women expected and demanded--and got. It is significant that Jack Potter, the bride's new husband, is the town marshall of Yellow Sky. He is the man responsible for maintaining law and order. If he bringing her with him--or is she bringing him with her?
The whole story is symbolic of what was happening all over the Wild West as a result of the revolutionary improvement in transportation and the influx of marriageable women. Scratchy Wilson is, of course, a symbol of the Wild West itelf. He is easily defeated by one look at the bride whom Jack Potter has brought back from San Antonio.
She wore a dress of blue cashmere, with small reservations of velvet here and there and with steel buttons aboundiing. She continually twisted her head to regard her puff sleeves, very stiff, straight, and high.
Jack Potter himself is wearing "new black clothes," but what must have really knocked Scratchy over were those puff velvet sleeves, "very stiff, straight, and high." They represented civilization stretching all the way back to the East Coast and across the ocean to the big cities of Europe. Scratchy enjoyed having the reputation of a desperado, but he knew he was only a ghost of the past when he saw the bride and realized what she represented. It is significant that the bride doesn't say a single word during the confrontation between Jack and Scratchy. She doesn't have to.
"Well," said Wilson at last, slowly, "I s'pose it's all off now."