The Bride Comes to Yellow Sky


Stephen Crane

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The Bride Comes to Yellow Sky: Motifs 2 key examples

Definition of Motif
A motif is an element or idea that recurs throughout a work of literature. Motifs, which are often collections of related symbols, help develop the central themes of a book... read full definition
A motif is an element or idea that recurs throughout a work of literature. Motifs, which are often collections of related symbols, help develop the... read full definition
A motif is an element or idea that recurs throughout a work of literature. Motifs, which are often collections of... read full definition
Part 1
Explanation and Analysis—Hour of Daylight:

In the story's first part, the town of Yellow Sky becomes a motif linked through metaphor and simile to notions of daylight, discovery, truth, confession, and uncovered secrets. Towards the end of the first part, the narrator describes Potter's reflections on the implications of leaving San Antonio—and its cover of darkness—and accepting the inevitable exposure involved in returning to Yellow Sky.

At San Antonio he was like a man hidden in the dark. A knife to sever any friendly duty, any form, was easy to his hand in that remote city. But the hour of Yellow Sky—the hour of daylight—was approaching.

In the first sentence of this passage, Crane compares Potter to a man hidden in the dark. This darkness has a somewhat positive connotation here, as it allows Potter the anonymity to act on his own terms. However, the darkness also speaks to Potter's guilt, as he feels bad for the ease of betraying his friends when he is free from their observation. By saying that a knife was "to sever any friendly duty, any form, was easy to his hand," the narrator suggests that Potter becomes colder and less mindful of his friends in the city than when he is in Yellow Sky.

In the last sentence of the passage, the narrator refers to Potter's arrival in Yellow Sky as "the hour of daylight." This daylight stands in contrast to the diction used to describe the urban environment of San Antonio, which offered anonymity and cover. Potter's return to the small and familiar Yellow Sky makes him feel like a spotlight is aimed at his actions and intentions. In this place, he feels as though his decisions are the business of everyone. Of course, long before this metaphor has been developed to this extent, the name "Yellow Sky" indicates the image of a brightly lit sky all on its own. This immediate imagery and connotation are likely what made Crane choose the name for his town. The figurative connection between Yellow Sky, daylight, and openness reinforces the dichotomy of the rough, immoral city and innocent, virtuous countryside.

The layers of meaning acquired by Yellow Sky through this motif also add a dimension to the story's title. Not only is the bride coming to Yellow Sky, she is entering exposure and revelation. This exposure can take many possible forms. It is possible to analyze it as Potter exposing her to the scrutiny of his community. Another interpretation is that coming to Yellow Sky will allow her to obtain new forms of autonomy and self-understanding.

Explanation and Analysis—Glances:

In the first part, the narrator takes subtle yet frequent note of other people's glances at the married couple. This focus on people's scrutiny, surveying, and gazes becomes a motif that highlights their obvious inexperience and non-belonging.

While the glances Potter devotes to other passengers are "furtive and shy," the people around them scrutinize them carelessly and at times with deliberate impudence. The passengers at times exchange glances to make fun of the couple in an unspoken way, and one passenger even winks at himself "in one of the numerous mirrors" when the bride behaves with clumsy coquetry. When the couple enters the dining car, the waiters survey them "with the interest, and also the equanimity, of men who had been forewarned."

The porter intentionally uses his gaze to prove his experience and knowledge relative to them.

This individual at times surveyed them from afar with an amused and superior grin. [...] He subtly used all the manners of the most unconquerable kind of snobbery. He oppressed them; but of this oppression they had small knowledge, and they speedily forgot that infrequently a number of travelers covered them with stares of derisive enjoyment.

The porter uses his gaze and body language to make fun of the pair. This is in part to prove to himself that he is better than them, but also to show anyone watching that he is in the know. Nevertheless, the couple seems immune to the silent taunting they are exposed to. Even if this is partly because they are unaware of the social codes that they are breaking, it is certainly also because of their shared happiness. Recently married and excited to begin their shared life, they pay more attention to each other's eyes than those of the surrounding strangers. 

Not everyone punishes them for their inexperience, however. When they eat dinner, their waiter feels "pleasure in steering them through their meal." The narrator compares this waiter to a "fatherly pilot," whose countenance is "radiant with benevolence." Just before leaving the unfamiliar setting for good at the end of the first part, their inexperience is punctuated one last time by a simile.

Potter fumbled out a coin and gave it to the porter, as he had seen others do. It was a heavy and muscle-bound business, as that of a man shoeing his first horse.

This simile reinforces the short story's Western flair. Just as Potter arrives in Yellow Sky, the archetypical western town on the edge of the frontier, his awkwardness is compared to that of a farrier handling a horse for the first time. His heavy, muscle-bound, fumbling movements can be visualized in contrast with the graceful movements of the passengers and employees on the train. Whereas the narrator pays close attention to the bodies of Potter and the bride, other people's bodies are for the most part absent; their movements are so swift and familiar that they go unnoticed, save for their disparaging gazes. This juxtaposition further emphasizes the relative awkwardness of Potter and the bride throughout the first part.

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