Issues of Identity 2

January 10, 2015

the blue hotel stephen crane19th Century American Fiction

Part 1

As time goes by, nature seems to lose the battle against industrialization. In a world that becomes more and more mechanical and materialistic we find a character like Bartleby, one who draws our attention to the fact that people are not brought together by progress, but they are pushed ever farther apart, with walls (material or spiritual) separating them and making communication impossible. Bartleby, the Scrivener is the perfect representation of the way human relationships “evolve” when people have next to no freedom of movement and they are trapped in routines. Bartleby goes against this situation by choosing silence and refusing to submit to authority, unlike his colleagues who obey orders without question.

The Blue Hotel and The Bride Comes to Yellow Sky are texts written by Stephen Crane. One of the main themes used in both of them is the frontier between West and civilization. We are given the opportunity to see how the American psyche works, what are the prejudices about the Wild West (this especially in The Blue Hotel) and the fact that the frontier is moved towards the West (no longer a place of violence, wilderness and lack of rules and institutions). The two worlds collide and the frontier is no longer needed, as civilization “invades” the West.

In The Bride Comes to Yellow Sky this is shown through the appearance of the bride in what used to be a violent place. Through her, institutions and rules are set in place and civilization is ready to take the place of wilderness. It is the only way to explain the attitude of Scratchy, a violent man looking for a fight, when he is told about the sheriff’s marriage: “He was like a creature allowed a glimpse of another world. -…- it was merely that in the presence of this foreign condition he was a simple child of the earlier plains”. In The Blue Hotel we can no longer find characters who think that it is unnatural to find institutions and rules in the West… except for the Swede, who is driven in his actions by prejudices, by the ideas he formed for himself without actually knowing the truth. The Swede arrives in Nebraska with a fixed image of that place (an image he created with no connection to the real world) and when he does not find what he expected, he tries to bend reality to his expectations. He is the one who creates violence… ironically enough, he is to blame for his own death.

The Wild West remained just a myth; as Scully tries to show the Swede without words, the frontier is no longer in place… civilization (institutions, laws, economy, order) is everywhere. Scully has a family, his son lives in the city and works as a lawyer, they have factories and a metropolis will be built there in a few years’ time. It must have been insulting for Scully and the other guests to listen to the Swede claiming that he will be killed like many other men before him (an assumption made based on what he thinks he knows of the West). We find ourselves not in the middle of the collision between two paradigms, but in the aftermath of said collision, when civilization took the place of wilderness and violence, something that people like the Swede cannot understand or accept.

We see that in the 19th century, the American identity was not yet very well defined. Or, better yet, it could not be defined without the bride comes to yellow skythe use of paradoxes and contradictions, something that can be observed even today in the American psyche. Some of the factors responsible for this situation are religion, the Civil War, industrialization and, later on, the two World Wars. Americans are open to new experiences, but try their hardest to create a tradition of their own, starting from the best of what Europe has to offer. They went from trying to level out all differences and make everyone look and act like everyone else to moving away from that and embrace their differences and what makes them unique (or, to use two cultural metaphors, America went from being a “melting pot” to becoming a “salad bowl”). They go between admiration for wilderness, for nature and the need to evolve and let civilization take over everything that surrounds them. They feel vitality and guilt. Americans were capable of breaking away from British authority and build a brand new nation, but they are aware of the mistakes humans are prone to make while creating a new society and destroying everything that was there before. And works of fiction never go wrong when it comes to reflecting these features.

by Elena Atudosiei

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One Response to Issues of Identity 2

  1. Issues of Identity 1 | eLitere on November 23, 2015 at 6:37 pm

    […] Part 2 […]

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