Throughout “The Bride Comes to Yellow Sky,” the bride is the sole female presence who serves as a symbol of the nineteenth-century “cult of domesticity.” In this ideal, industrial production relieved families of the burden of producing goods for home use. This development consequently relegated the genders into “separate spheres” in which men worked outside the home (the public sphere), while women tended to home and children (the domestic sphere). The home became the cherished site of family bonding and marital bliss—a retreat from the harsh outside world of work and politics. Although “separate spheres” was more an ideal than a reality, it nonetheless reflected a growing sense that the domestic environment—characterized by mass-produced goods (especially luxury items), designated gender roles, and middle-class values—represented a morally superior, female-dominated alternative to the male-dominated outside world. As a symbol of the cult of domesticity, the bride possesses a distinctly feminine moral authority that empowers her to offer an alternative setting, centered on marriage and children, to the male-dominated world of Scratchy Wilson and Jack Potter, which centers on reciprocal masculine conflict.
In “The Bride Comes to Yellow Sky,” the titular bride plays a subordinate role to her husband, Jack Potter, reflecting the strict gender roles and standards of behavior that the cult of domesticity fostered. Nineteenth-century newspapers, magazines, women’s journals, and pamphlets all promoted the cult of domesticity by encouraging middle- and upper-class women to set respectable moral standards of behavior, dress, and literary tastes, as well as promote the appropriately bourgeois consumption of mass-produced luxury goods. This plays out in the story, as the bride rarely speaks, and she acts with a “wifely amiability” while displaying a flush on her face that “seemed quite permanent.” Like many women in the late-Victorian era, the bride becomes an extension of her husband’s life. Similarly, when Scratchy Wilson confronts Potter and the bride in the story’s climax, the bride fulfills the role of the stereotypically weak and frightened female. Her face turns “as yellow as old cloth,” leaving her a helpless “slave to hideous rites”—that is, the rites of male conflict in the form of a shootout.
Yet the bride also possesses enormous power despite her gendered weakness. The cult of domesticity’s elevation of middle-class women to social pillars of “moral strength and virtue” imbued them with power and influence both inside and outside of the household, even as it paradoxically characterized women as delicate, prone to fainting and hysterics, and physically and psychologically weaker than men. Through their marriage, the bride induces Potter to alter his entire lifestyle by transitioning from a rough-and-tumble, small-town marshal to a domesticated married man who wears “new black clothes.” Later in the story, the mere sight of the bride—a symbol of the cult of domesticity—leaves Scratchy “like a creature allowed a glimpse of another world,” meaning the female-led domestic sphere. Just as she transforms Potter’s world, so does the bride render Wilson “a simple child of the earlier plains” whom the “foreign condition” of marriage and domesticity overpowers.
The cult of domesticity also intimately linked women to the consumption and display of fineries and other luxury items, which the bride’s appearance and behavior on the train reflects. As keepers of the household, women were encouraged to purchase and collect luxury goods in order to transform households into warm, tender, aesthetically luxurious spaces. The bride fulfills this role when she displays with pride the new silver watch she purchased in San Antonio. Indeed, so connected were women to material luxury that women themselves served as ornamental luxuries, which men displayed to enhance their own status. The bride, though “not pretty” nor “very young” still presents herself in a blue cashmere dress with velvet trim, puffy sleeves, and steel buttons. She is an ornament for Potter to display both on the train, where she draws stares from the other passengers, as well as in the town of Yellow Sky, where Potter thinks that her arrival would warrant an appearance from the town’s brass band.
The bride’s importance as a symbol of feminine moral authority and ornamentation dovetails with her status as a harbinger of how the female-led domestic sphere is rapidly replacing spaces heretofore characterized by masculine conflict. At the beginning of the story, the train pulls the “Great Pullman” in which Potter and the bride travel. The Chicago-based Pullman Company manufactured luxurious sleeping cars known as “Pullmans” to bring the domestic comforts of home to train travelers. The “dazzling fittings” of the Pullman coach at which Potter marvels literally transports the luxurious domestic sphere—along with the woman who runs it—across the Texas plains. Even before the bride’s arrival in Yellow Sky, the feminine space has ironically already touched the town through Scratchy Wilson’s clothes. He wears a “maroon-colored flannel shirt” made by women in New York City and boots with “red tops” and “gilded imprints” favored by “sledding boys” in New England. In West Texas, the last desperado, a symbol of the roughness and conflict of the male-dominated sphere, is clothed in a garment made by women, the safe keepers of domestic bliss. He also wears boots worn by children, women’s domestic wards. The material fruits of mass-consumption that fueled the growth of the domestic sphere literally cover over Scratchy, the symbol of the old male-dominated Wild West. This powerful juxtaposition suggests the growing importance of feminine space and influence even in the most heretofore male-dominated settings.
Domesticity, Gender, and Feminine Authority ThemeTracker
Domesticity, Gender, and Feminine Authority Quotes in The Bride Comes to Yellow Sky
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.
Across the sandy street were some vivid green-grass plots, so wonderful in appearance, amid the sands that burned near them in a blazing sun, that they caused a doubt in the mid. They exactly resembled the grass mats used to represent lawns on the stage. At the cooler end of the railway station, a man without a coat sat in a tilted chair and smoked his pipe. The fresh-cut-bank of the Rio Grande circled near the town, and there could be seen beyond it a great plum-colored plain of mesquite.
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.
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.