Voices from the Past in The Bride Comes to Yellow Sky
Once upon a time there was the West, and the West was wild. Trails needed to be blazed, and Indians to be fought. To overcome such hardships and obstacles, men needed to be just as tough, rugged, and untamed as the landscape that they braved. In a time when American people needed heroes, those men who conquered the Western frontier became the objects of admiration and wonder. Furthermore, they set a standard of physical strength and violent self-reliance to be met by anyone who decided to settle in the West for it was a place of toughness, conflict, and courage. In Stephen Crane's "The Bride Comes to Yellow Sky," Scratchy Wilson and Jack Potter seem to possess those qualities required of a "Western man." Through their voices, the legend of the West emerges in Crane's story. At the same time, though, their voices are only part of a discourse of voices in the story that eulogizes the death of the Old West and the coming of civilization. Even as it celebrates the Old West, Crane's story ambivalently dramatizes its passing.
Included in the collection of voices in "The Bride Comes to Yellow Sky" are those of the drummer and the bartender of the Weary Gentleman saloon. The town of Yellow Sky has, of course, a typical frontier saloon where the men gather to drink whiskey. The barkeeper's dog lounges outside the front door, taking in the scene of a dusty little town whose name, Yellow Sky, even suggests that the town is a part of a natural landscape that is vast but beautiful. When shooting suddenly starts in the street, the reader discovers with the drummer how quickly a sleepy Old Western town can turn violent. Scratchy Wilson is responsible for the shooting, the bartender explains to the drummer: Wilson is "'a wonder with a gun -- a perfect wonder, and when he gets on the war-trail, we hunt our holes -- naturally. He's about the last one of the old gang that used to hang out along the river here. He's a terror when he's drunk'" (118). The scene in the saloon and the hushed voices of the drummer and the bartender captures the legendary drama of the Old West. And yet the words of the bartender and the mere presence of the drummer also ironically dramatize how civilization that has begun to invade Yellow Sky.
The drummer is an outsider to Yellow Sky, yet he has influence on the town; as a traveling salesman, he is a part of the new business economy that is changing Yellow Sky. The bartender is a businessman, too, a representative of one of the first businesses to take root in the Old West. But newer businesses serviced by the drummer are coming to Yellow Sky and changing it. Perhaps the name that the barkeeper has chosen for his saloon, the Weary Gentleman, is symbolically appropriate, for it suggests that civilization has subdued the west. The gun-slinging men that were once the heroes in tales have become listless because there is nothing left for them to conquer.