Last Updated on October 26, 2018, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 596
“The Bride Comes to Yellow Sky” concerns the efforts of a town marshal bringing his new bride to the “frontier” town of Yellow Sky, Texas, at a time when the Old West is being slowly but inevitably civilized. At the climax of the story, the stereotypical and seemingly inevitable gunfight, a staple feature of Westerns, is averted, and the reader senses that all such gunplay is a thing of the past, that in fact Stephen Crane is describing the “end of an era.”
Crane’s four-part story concerns human beings’ interaction with their environment. (Jack’s wife is not an individualized person with a name; she is important only because she represents marriage as a civilized institution.) In part 1, Crane describes the progress of the “great Pullman” train across Texas. With its luxurious appointments (“the dazzling fittings of the coach”), the train is a foreign country to the newlyweds, whom Crane portrays as self-conscious aliens: Jack’s hands “perform” in a “most conscious fashion,” and his bride is “embarrassed” by her puff sleeves. The couple are so self-conscious and intimidated by their surroundings that the black porter “bullies” them, regards them with “an amused and superior grin,” and generally “oppresses” them, treatment that they also receive from the black waiter, who “patronizes them.” As the train nears Yellow Sky, Jack becomes “commensurately restless,” primarily because he knows that he has committed an “extraordinary crime” by going “headlong over all the social hedges” and ignoring his “duty to his friends,” members of an “innocent and unsuspecting community.” Marshals in frontier towns apparently do not marry because they need to be free of domestic entanglements. Because Jack and his bride sense their “mutual guilt,” they “slink” away from the train station and walk rapidly to his home, a “safe citadel” from which Jack can later emerge to make his peace with the community.
While Jack and his bride make their way to his house, Crane cuts to the Weary Gentleman saloon, where six men, including the Eastern “drummer,” sit drinking at the bar. While the drummer tells a story, another man appears at the door to announce that Scratchy Wilson is drunk and “has turned loose with both hands.” The remainder of part 2 is exposition: The “innocent” drummer, whom Crane describes as a “foreigner,” is told that there will be some shooting, that Scratchy and Jack are old adversaries, and that Scratchy is “the last one of the old gang that used to hang out along the river here.”
Scratchy makes his appearance in part 3, which completes the preparation for the “show down,” the anticipated gunfight of part 4. Scratchy issues unanswered challenges, shoots at a dog, and then approaches the saloon, where he demands a drink. When he is ignored, he uses the saloon door for target practice and then, remembering his traditional opponent, goes to Jack’s house and howls challenges and epithets at the empty house.
In part 4, Jack and his bride encounter Scratchy near Jack’s house. Scratchy gets the “drop” on Jack, accuses him of trying to sneak up on him, and warns him about trying to draw his gun. When Jack tells him that he has no gun, Scratchy is “livid” and tells him, “Don’t take me for no kid.” Jack answers that he is not lying, but Scratchy presses him for a reason, suggesting that perhaps he has been to “Sunday-school.” Jack’s response is to Scratchy almost as unlikely: “I’m married.” Unable to deal with “this foreign condition,” Scratchy supposes that “it’s all off now” and walks away.