The Blue Hotel

The Blue Hotel Study Guide

Welcome to the LitCharts study guide on Stephen Crane's The Blue Hotel. Created by the original team behind SparkNotes, LitCharts are the world's best literature guides.

Brief Biography of Stephen Crane

Stephen Crane was born in Newark, New Jersey in 1871, the ninth child of Methodist parents. He began writing as early as age four, and by sixteen had published a number of articles. Despite his proficiency as an author, Crane had no interest in attending college; after a brief stint at Syracuse University, during which he was more active in his fraternity than in the classroom, he left school to pursue a career as a journalist. Crane published his first novel, Maggie: A Girl of the Streets, in 1893. Only two years later, in 1895, Crane received national attention for his novel The Red Badge of Courage, which critics admired for its highly realistic portrayal of the American Civil War, despite the fact that Crane had never seen battle. After publishing The Red Badge of Courage, Crane accepted an assignment as a war correspondent in Cuba. On his passage to the island, his boat sank, and he was left for more than twenty-four hours floating in a dinghy in the open ocean. This incident inspired one of his most well-known stories, “The Open Boat.” After the accident, Crane continued his work as a war correspondent with his partner, Cora Taylor. During this period, he and Taylor became friends with notable writers including H.G. Wells and Joseph Conrad. Despite his famous acquaintances, however, Crane suffered from health problems and financial strain for most of his adult life. He died of tuberculosis in a sanitorium in Germany in 1900 at only twenty-eight years old.
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Historical Context of The Blue Hotel

Crane thought and wrote often about war and death, and the sudden violence between characters in “The Blue Hotel” is likely influenced by his work as a war correspondent. Crane witnessed battles in both the Greco-Turkish War of 1897 (also known as the Thirty Days War) and the Spanish-American War, as well as the U.S. Marines' seizure of Guantanamo Bay. Crane also carried messages to commanders during the war and was later recognized for his material aid of the war effort. War, violence, isolation, and exclusion play a pivotal role in much of Crane's fiction, as they did in his journalistic coverage of these conflicts. The elements of violence and distrust in “The Blue Hotel” were also likely influenced by similar themes in Western literature of the time. Crane wrote about the American West when Western literature was just beginning to become popular on an international level. The dime novels that are referenced in “The Blue Hotel” became popular around the 1860s, about thirty-five years before Crane wrote his short story. In the 1890s, Wyoming, Utah, and Montana became states and crime tore through the new West. Dime novels primarily featured outlaws, settlers, mountain men, and bounty hunters, and were often based on real stories of celebrity criminals like Billy the Kid and Wild Bill Hickok. Though in Crane's time Westerns were more common in pulp magazines, some authors started writing full-length stories set in the Wild West around the time Crane wrote “The Blue Hotel.” The most popular of these was Owen Wister's The Virginian, which was published only two years after Crane's death. Twenty years later, early Western films would give the Western genre worldwide attention.

Other Books Related to The Blue Hotel

Crane's works, particularly his novels and short fiction, typically fall under the categories of American Realism and Naturalism. Because Crane was a journalist, he described much of his writing as a hybrid of fiction and journalistic observation. His first novel, Maggie: A Girl of the Streets and his two best known collections of short stories, The Open Boat and Other Stories and The Monster and Other Stories, all deal with themes of fear, the conflict between idealism and reality, and social isolation or exclusion. Other acclaimed American Realists, whose work is written in a style similar to Crane's, include Jack London, John Steinbeck, and Edith Wharton. Crane's work is also often compared to famous Naturalist Theodore Dreiser, whose novels such as Sister Carrie and An American Tragedy feature characters who lack agency and a strong moral code, much like those in “The Blue Hotel.” Some similar works in the Naturalist cannon include Jack London's Call of the Wild and his short story “The Law of Life,” Ambrose Bierce's “An Occurence at Owl Creek Bridge,” and the novels The Octopus and McTeague by Frank Norris.
Key Facts about The Blue Hotel
  • Full Title: “The Blue Hotel”
  • When Written: 1898
  • Where Written: Sussex, U.K.
  • When Published: 1898
  • Literary Period: Realism/Naturalism
  • Genre: Short story, Realistic fiction, Naturalism
  • Setting: Romper, Nebraska, around 1900
  • Climax: The Gambler stabs and kills the Swede in the town saloon
  • Antagonist: Though part of Crane's aim is to question the idea of a traditional antagonist as the sole guilty party in a story, the Swede is the most outwardly antagonistic character, and is targeted by the other characters as the villain.
  • Point of View: Third person omniscient

Extra Credit for The Blue Hotel

Romantic Scandal Crane was known for his eccentric lifestyle and romantic endeavors, which came to a head during the trial of Dora Clark. Clark was tried for solicitation and prostitution, and Crane acted a character witness to support her innocence. Crane was openly ridiculed by the media for his association with this “woman in scarlet.”

Commodore Shipwreck One of Crane's most frequently referenced stories, “The Open Boat,” was written after he was shipwrecked during his passage on the SS Commodore on his way to an assignment in Havana, Cuba. After the ship sank, Crane and three other men fled in a dinghy and were stuck off the coast of Florida for a day and a half before trying to land at Daytona Beach. The dinghy flipped, and the men had to swim to shore; one man died in the struggle to swim against the current.