"Something Old, Something
Humans are creatures of habit. In his work "The Bride Comes to Yellow Sky," Stephen Crane considers this apparent truism as well as its sometimes unfortunate consequences. In the story, Scratchy Wilson and Jack Potter face a dramatically changing society. Although their actions and emotions concerning the changes in their town differ, Scratchy and Potter are both very fearful of the inescapable easternizing influences. Through Scratchy and Potter’s embracing of the Old West, their responses to the East, and their optimism, Stephen Crane illustrates that whether attachment or resistance exists, change is inevitable.
To emphasize the difficulty and inevitability of change, Crane displays the characters’ attachments to the Old West. Scratchy, the sole survivor of an old gang, plays out his beloved past by rampaging Yellow Sky with his long revolvers and drunken curses. His "creeping movement of [a] midnight cat," chants of "Apache scalp-music," and "terrible invitations" all portray Scratchy’s devotion to the Old West. Scratchy’s loyalty to his past clearly emphasizes his resistance to change and foreshadows that change will defeat him no matter how long or how hard he plays the game. Potter also plays along by acting as the town marshal who must save Yellow Sky and heroically put an end to the town "terror." Nevertheless, though Potter is attached to the Old West, he embraces the new West with his marriage. Unlike Scratchy, Potter accepts that Yellow Sky is changing and decides to change with it. Crane uses this acceptance to show that change is sometimes easier for some than for others. Potter continues to struggle and worries what his hometown will do when they learn of his marriage. Crane masterfully illustrates the mixed emotions of "the traitor to the feelings of Yellow Sky" as he faces the huge step of marriage and awaits his arrival to Yellow Sky. Through Scratchy’s hardened loyalty and Potter’s eventual acceptance, Crane wonderfully reveals the power of change and the effects it has on everyone.
Crane also expresses the certainty of change with Scratchy's and Potter’s reactions to the easternizing influences. In an attempt to fit into the world he feels so lost in, Scratchy wears a maroon-colored flannel shirt from "the East Side of New York" and boots "of the kind beloved in winter by little sledding boys on the hillsides of New England." Scratchy is desperately trying to fit in, but gets nowhere because he still transforms into the old gang-shooter of the West and rampages the town. Through Scratchy’s symbolic clothing, Crane emphasizes that, despite any efforts given, if one clings to the past, one will be prevented from ever surviving change. Potter, on the other hand, embraces the new West as the train ride’s "surroundings [reflect] the glory of their marriage," symbolizing his happiness and satisfaction with the new change in his life. But, like Scratchy, Potter is still extremely apprehensive as he sits on the train moving his fingers incessantly and "[looking] down respectfully at his attire." As Crane displays Scratchy’s homeless efforts and Potter’s successful train ride, Crane expresses the importance of openly and willingly accepting the new because in the end no one has control over the inevitable.
Another example Crane uses to highlight the unavoidability of change and its powerful effects is Scratchy and Potter’s optimism throughout the story. As Scratchy is "playing with [the] town," his spirits soar and he feels powerful and heroic. Scratchy wants to hold on to the past, so he outwardly acts out the Old West. His actions and high emotions depict the desperation one feels when faced with the unfamiliar. However, when Scratchy learns of Potter’s marriage and acceptance of the new West, his high spirits diminish. Scratchy’s "funnel-shaped tracks in the heavy sand" perfectly illustrate the character’s lonely despair and the inevitability of change. However, for Potter, Scratchy’s melancholic exit marks a beginning to a new and happily married life. Initially, Potter’s confidence wanes as he realizes he has "committed an extraordinary crime" and has "gone headlong over all the social hedges" of Yellow Sky by getting married. Potter is convinced that Yellow Sky will not approve of his marriage because it is simply not what is ordinarily done in the West. Consequently, Potter’s only adversary is Scratchy Wilson who longs to have a showdown of revolvers like the good old times. Refusing to acquiesce to Scratchy and the Old West, Potter becomes more confident as Scratchy reluctantly cancels the flight because he realizes Marshal Potter is gone forever. Each character’s spirits and emotions throughout the story shadow their struggles with the changes they face. Through their strong emotions, Crane brilliantly emphasizes what a huge impact change inevitably has on a person’s life.
Through Scratchy and Potter’s attachments to the West, reluctance to embrace the East, and strong spirits, Crane skillfully exhibits that change is inevitable. The two characters are both faced with the same battle: surviving the new civilization destined for Yellow Sky. The way in which Crane displays each character’s different twists and turns with the way each chooses to face these changes clearly express that no matter what, one cannot deny the inevitable. Scratchy feels as if an "arch of a tomb" surrounds him, so naturally he clings to what is familiar to him. Yet as time goes on, it becomes harder and harder for Scratchy to grasp that he cannot hold onto the past forever. The future is now unreachable for him. On the other hand, Potter, though apprehensive like Scratchy, slowly opens his heart to the changing world. Through Scratchy and Potter, Crane establishes two choices: one can either resist change as Scratchy does and remain unhappy until the end, or one can accept change as Potter eventually does and further his future and happiness. Humans are creatures of habit where stability and comfort come first. Ironically, though fully aware of it, humans are always surprised at and afraid of change and how to handle it. Through his work, Stephen Crane brilliantly sets forth that one has no control over what is to come but only how he or she chooses to face it.
Rachel Daly is the author of "Stop and Smell the Roses." It was written for Dr. Barbara Murray’s ENGL 1102 class during Spring 2001 semester when Daly was a junior majoring in Early Childhood Education.