The Blue Hotel

by

Stephen Crane

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Cards Symbol Icon

Cards signify both deception and fate in “The Blue Hotel.” Cards first appear in the story when the Swede, the Cowboy, and the Easterner arrive at the Palace Hotel and see Johnnie and the farmer bickering over a game. Soon after, the guests themselves join in a game, during which the men all seem to be sizing each other up; in this way, the card game becomes a symbol of the elaborate deception that each man is trying to pass over on the others—the Easterner's attempt to feign innocent ignorance, Johnnie's false honesty, and the Swede's boasts at invulnerability are all deceptions that are built, and later crumble, during a game of cards.

Of course, a card game itself consists of both strategy and chance—in theory, all those who play are on equal footing, and a man's fate is partly luck and partly in his own hands. By playing cards, the men are effectively playing with fate. When the Swede, who is convinced that it is his fate to die in the blue hotel, accuses Johnnie of cheating at cards, he is not only accusing Johnnie of deceiving the other guests but also of manipulating fate to give himself the upper hand. The Swede’s actions here notably lead to a violent brawl, implicitly beginning to fulfill the prophecy he believes about himself.

Whether this prophecy fulfillment is ultimately of his own doing or out of his hands is left ambiguous by the story, and is probably, like a game of cards, a combination of both fate and agency. Though in some ways the men have a say in the course of events, when blizzard winds blow in through the window and scatter the cards from the table, Crane is making a clear point that despite their best attempts, the men cannot control fate. Crane ultimately uses the cards as a metaphor for his idea that fate is both random and the result of actions and behaviors, and this contributes to his philosophy on the guilt he believes each character should carry over the death of the Swede.

Cards Quotes in The Blue Hotel

The The Blue Hotel quotes below all refer to the symbol of Cards. For each quote, you can also see the other characters and themes related to it (each theme is indicated by its own dot and icon, like this one:
Fate, Free Will, and Moral Responsibility Theme Icon
). Note: all page numbers and citation info for the quotes below refer to the Dover Thrift Editions edition of The Blue Hotel published in 1993.
Section 2 Quotes

The Swede backed rapidly toward a corner of the room. His hands

were out protectingly in front of his chest, but he was making an obvious struggle to control his fright. “Gentlemen,” he quavered, “I suppose I am going to be killed before I can leave this house. I suppose I am going to be killed before I can leave this house!” In his eyes was the dying-swan look. Through the windows could be seen the snow turning blue in the shadow of dusk. The wind tore at the house, and some loose thing beat regularly against the clapboards like a spirit tapping.

Related Symbols: Cards, Blue, The Blizzard
Page Number: 93
Explanation and Analysis:
Section 5 Quotes

Of course the board had been overturned, and now the whole company of cards was scattered over the floor, where the boot of the men trampled the fat and painted kings and queens as they gazed with their silly eyes at the war that was waging above them.

Related Symbols: Cards
Page Number: 101
Explanation and Analysis:
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Cards Symbol Timeline in The Blue Hotel

The timeline below shows where the symbol Cards appears in The Blue Hotel. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Section 1
Fate, Free Will, and Moral Responsibility Theme Icon
Judgment and Deception Theme Icon
Once inside the hotel, Scully ends a game of cards between his son Johnnie and an old farmer, with whom Johnnie had been having an... (full context)
Section 2
Fate, Free Will, and Moral Responsibility Theme Icon
Vulnerability and Violence Theme Icon
Judgment and Deception Theme Icon
Johnnie and the old farmer begin playing another game of cards, which the cowboy and the Easterner watch intently. The Swede remains separately by the window,... (full context)
Fate, Free Will, and Moral Responsibility Theme Icon
Vulnerability and Violence Theme Icon
Judgment and Deception Theme Icon
The men form another game of cards—the cowboy partners with Johnnie, and the Swede is asked to join on the side of... (full context)
Fate, Free Will, and Moral Responsibility Theme Icon
Vulnerability and Violence Theme Icon
...notice of the Swede’s strange behavior. The cowboy is a “board-whacker,” meaning he plays his cards aggressively and frequently slams his fist on the table. The Easterner and the Swede are... (full context)
Section 5
Fate, Free Will, and Moral Responsibility Theme Icon
Vulnerability and Violence Theme Icon
Judgment and Deception Theme Icon
After supper the Swede insists the men play another game of cards, with a “threat” in his tone. Scully refuses to play because he plans to meet... (full context)
Fate, Free Will, and Moral Responsibility Theme Icon
Vulnerability and Violence Theme Icon
Judgment and Deception Theme Icon
...eyes. The other men gasp and stand up. Suddenly, a fight breaks out over the card table. All the men are pushing and shoving each other and only fragments of speech... (full context)
Section 6
Fate, Free Will, and Moral Responsibility Theme Icon
Judgment and Deception Theme Icon
...in their winter clothes and open the door to the blizzard. The wind blows the cards against the wall. It is bitterly cold, the landscape blue and barren, with the train... (full context)
Section 9
Fate, Free Will, and Moral Responsibility Theme Icon
Judgment and Deception Theme Icon
...the Easterner reveals that the Swede wasn't crazy, and that Johnnie actually was cheating at cards. He then calls the cowboy a fool and admits that he himself had been too... (full context)