“The Bride Comes to Yellow Sky” highlights the conflict between change and stasis (a state of stability). Crane believed that humans were constant victims of powerful forces beyond their control. In “Yellow Sky,” he depicts change as an invasive force that disrupts the lives of the story’s main characters, as well as the environments they inhabit: the town of Yellow Sky specifically and the Western frontier more generally. Capitalist market forces disrupt the frontier remoteness of Yellow Sky by making it more settled like the East. Yet, Scratchy Wilson and Jack Potter each express ambivalence about the meaning of change, a point that reflects the more general air of ambiguity that Crane casts in his story. Change is as disruptive and inevitable as stasis is familiar, which makes it difficult for both Wilson and Potter to embrace fully.
The train, a powerful agent of change, sweeps across the Texas plains. The speed and power with which the machine travels indicate the unstoppable nature of the changes it brings to the frontier. The elements of the Texas countryside, mesquite and cactus, frame houses and trees, “were sweeping into the east, sweeping over the horizon, a precipice.” The unstoppable power of the locomotive allows the East to devour the West. Like the locomotive, Potter himself has clearly chosen to disrupt the stasis of his life by getting married in San Antonio, but this brings lingering anxieties. Indeed, he feels that his decision to get married might not have been his at all, but instead “part of an unspoken form which does not control men in these matters.” In Potter, Crane examines change as a force that men cannot really control.
Even more so than Potter, Scratchy Wilson prefers the familiarity of stasis to the threatening uncertainty of change. Wilson’s character arc is of a man deeply committed to preserving the stasis in which he has a guaranteed role to play as Potter’s chief antagonist—only to be overwhelmed by the inevitability of change. Ironically, given his discomfort with change, Scratchy, like Jack Potter, is himself an agent of change. Like the train barreling through the countryside, Wilson utterly disrupts the quiet stasis of Yellow Sky. Scratchy’s liquor-fueled evening blustering in the town’s main street is a demonstrative act of self-preservation. His performance is a public reminder of his role as the devil in Little Sky’s paradise, a role he aims to keep playing. Fittingly, the name “Scratchy” derives from the phrase “Old Scratch,” a longstanding nickname for the devil. The fact that Scratchy receives “no offer of fight” from anyone only drives him to reinforce his role as the devil to Jack Potter’s lawman angel. This attempt to regain the stability of the two men’s antagonistic relationship that ultimately changes Scratchy’s life forever. When Scratchy Wilson arrives at Jack Potter’s house, he hopes to rekindle the familiar conflict that has defined the two men’s lives in Yellow Sky. Potter’s mind, however, is on change. “Somewhere in the back of his mind a vision of the Pullman floated [...] all the glory of the marriage, the environment of the new estate.” Potter is there to make a profound change as a civilized man who must confront his past in order to accept his “new estate.”
Scratchy calls off the shootout because he realizes that without Jack Potter playing his traditional role as antagonist, Wilson’s role as an outlaw no longer exists. While Scratchy embodies the devil himself, Jack stands in for an avenging angel. Jack’s last name, Potter, references a potter’s field, a graveyard for the indignant, the unknown, and criminals. Potter symbolically sends Scratchy to a potter’s field by relegating his old nemesis to an afterthought in a world that has passed him by. Lacking a defined role on the conquered frontier, Scratchy Wilson’s fate is to be a forgotten victim of vast changes beyond his control.
Throughout the story, both Jack Potter and Scratchy Wilson undergo changes that reflect their respective roles as symbols of the old and new order, the conqueror and the conquered. Although Potter remains somewhat wary of change, his getting married suggests that he does welcome change to some extent and will be able to adapt to it. Meanwhile, Scratchy seems to fade into obscurity, as he is unable to accept change, slinking away from the showdown upon realizing that his beloved antagonistic relationship has changed with the introduction of the bride. Crane, however, permeates the triumph of change over stasis with an ambiguous, even satirical undertone. Scratchy is really only the devil when he’s drunk, a fact that downplays the overall threat he poses to the town. Potter might be an avenging angel, but it is only the presence of the bride, not Potter himself, that convinces Scratchy to lay down his arms. Change in Yellow Sky comes not with the bang of a gun, but with a placid resignation.
Change vs. Stasis ThemeTracker
Change vs. Stasis Quotes in The Bride Comes to Yellow Sky
The Great Pullman was whirling onward with such dignity of motion that a glance from the window seemed simply to prove that the plains of Texas were pouring eastward. Vast flats of green grass, dull-hued spaces of mesquite and cactus, little groups of frame houses, woods of light and tender trees, all were sweeping into the east, sweeping over the horizon, a precipice.
To the minds of the pair, their surroundings reflected the glory of their marriage that morning in San Antonio. This was the environment of their new estate, and the man's face in particular beamed with an elation that made him appear ridiculous to the negro porter.
The drummer's tale was interrupted by a young man who suddenly appeared in the open door. He cried: "Scratchy Wilson is drunk, and has turned loose with both hands." The two Mexicans at once set down their glasses and faded out of the rear entrance of the saloon. The drummer, innocent and jocular, answered: “All right, old man. S'pose he has? Come in and have a drink, anyhow."
"You see," he whispered, "this here Scratchy Wilson is a wonder with a gun a perfect wonder—and when he goes on the war trail, we hunt our holes—naturally. He’s about the last one of the old gang that used to hang out along the river here. He's a terror when he’s drunk. When he’s sober he's all right—kind of simple—wouldn't hurt a fly—nicest fellow in town. But when he's drunk—whoo!"
A man in a maroon-colored flannel shirt, which had been purchased for purposes of decoration, and made principally by some Jewish women on the East Side of New York, rounded a corner and walked into the middle of the main street of Yellow Sky. In either hand the man held a long, heavy, blue-black revolver. Often he yelled, and these cries rang through a semblance of a deserted village, shrilly flying over the roofs in a volume that seemed to have no relation to the ordinary vocal strength of a man. It was as if the surrounding stillness formed the arch of a tomb over him. These cries of ferocious challenge rang against walls of silence. And his boots had-red tops with gilded imprints, of the kind beloved in winter by little sledding boys on the hillsides of New England.
There was a silence. Potter's mouth seemed to be merely a grave for his tongue. He exhibited an instinct to at once loosen his arm from the woman’s grip, and he dropped the bag to the sand. As for the bride, her face had gone as yellow as old cloth. She was a slave to hideous rites, gazing at the apparitional snake.
He was stiffening and steadying, but yet somewhere at the back of his mind a vision of the Pullman-floated, the seagreen figured velvet, the shining brass, silver, and glass, the wood that gleamed as darkly brilliant as the surface of a pool of oil—all the glory of the marriage, the environment of the new estate.
He was like a creature allowed a glimpse of another world. He moved a pace backward, and his arm, with the revolver, dropped to his side.
He was not a student of chivalry; it was merely that in the presence of this foreign condition he was a simple child of the earlier plains. He picked up his starboard revolver, and, placing both weapons in their holsters, he went away. His feet made funnel-shaped tracks in the heavy sand.