Thursday, March 10, 2011


Stephen Crane's short story, "The Blue Hotel", uses the elements of fear and control to transport the reader from the beginning to end. "The Blue Hotel" not only shows how these characters react to each other but also how individuals react toward their own disturbing feelings of fear, anticipation, and need for control. Each character is placed in a situation which causes the characters' feelings of fear, anticipation, and the need for control; however, each individual reacts differently. The main characters who have been altered by these intense emotions that will be discussed in this paper are Scully, the Swede, nature, the gambler, and finally the reader themselves.

The title," The Blue Hotel", is a peculiar description of the hotel and gives the reader a sensation that there is a hidden meaning yet to be found out. Crane starts off with an ominous and weary description of The Palace Hotel. He uses a unique description of this hotel by stating the hotel "was always screaming and howling in a way that made the dazzling winter landscape of Nebraska seem only a gray swampish hush." (Crane) He goes on to depict this eerie scene by comparing the small main room in the hotel to a "temple for the enormous stove that hummed with godlike violence." Crane creates a control over the reader when they begin to gather up within themselves a need for caution from these heeding descriptions.

Scully, the proprietor of the hotel, is the first character introduced to the reader. Crane explains that it is Scully's habit to meet the local train and to use his "seductions upon any man that he might see wavering, gripsack in hand." On one particular day, Scully, by using his persuasive control, managed to collect three men and "practically made them prisoners." As the story gathers momentum, Scully tries to control the situation that is brewing between Johnnie and the Swede. The Swede declares he is leaving before he is killed, but Scully protests that he will not leave until he understands what has happened. In an effort to relieve the Swede's uneasiness, Scully tries to show him that he is a simple family man and has nothing to fear while in his care. By the end of this episode, Scully believed himself to have cunningly quieted the fears bubbling inside of the Swede.

When readers are first introduced to the Swede, they find themselves faced with a man who seems very out of sorts with the other characters. The Swede does not seem to be paying attention to the actual events around him. He misconstrues other characters intentions and meanings as he seems to be playing out his own private version of what is happening. This misconception causes the Swede to become panicked and fearful for his life. Crane describes him as resembling "a badly frightened man." In the company of the other men, the Swede sat nervously and let out a shrill laughter that seemed inappropriate to the other men. A further example of the Swede creating his own version of the situation is when he looked at Johnnie and said, "I suppose there has been a good many men killed in this room." This statement further sets the Swede apart from the other characters as they are perplexed and even annoyed by his irrational behavior.

The story takes an unexpected turn when Scully loses his control over the Swede after sharing his whiskey with him. Once back in the main room with the other characters, we find the Swede has altered in behavior significantly. He no longer appeared nervous and timid; he was now domineering, loud and bullish as he tramped back into the room and took over the entire interaction with the other characters. Crane states that the Swede "began to talk; he talked arrogantly, profanely, angrily." "He seemed to have grown suddenly taller; he gazed brutally disdainful, into every face. His voice rang through the room." The almost immediate alteration of the Swede's behavior catches the reader off guard. Due to the suddenness, readers struggle not to stumble as they try to fathom what is happening now. Crane continues to conjure up this startling change in the Swede with menacing words such as wolfish glare, demoniac, savage and flame-lit eyes.

Crane cleverly weaves in portrayals of nature against man such as, "looking out two small windows in the main room the men could see a "turmoiling sea of snow." He gives the wind human qualities by descriptions of "huge arms" that were making attempts to "embrace the flakes as they sped." There is also the use of metaphoric description to describe the men going into the storm as they "plunged into the tempest as into a sea." Crane was able to evoke emotions and human-like qualities for the raging snow storm outside. For example, Crane is able to bring the reader’s attention to these traits as we imagine the "long mellow cry of the blizzard" and the snow wailing as it is "flung to its grave in the south". The storm outside is transformed into a forbidding and treacherous graveyard.

The gambler is brought to light towards the end of the story creating yet another turn. The gambler comes into view quickly and is depicted within moments as someone who is clever, talented, respectful, generous and understanding. He does not seem like the image that would normally be conjured up when thinking of a professional gambler and hustler. However, by painting such a wonderful and polite image of this gambler, Crane has helped set up the reader's point of view towards him. Once the Swede comes into the saloon in his loud and drunken state, the reader concludes that there is going to be a confrontation of some kind. The Swede tries to control the gambler in this scene by grasping "the gambler frenziedly at the throat, and was dragging him from his chair." Within moments the gambler takes control of the Swede by thrusting a knife into him. At this point, Crane does not talk of the Swede but instead gives this image, "It shot forward, and a human body, this citadel of virtue, wisdom, power, was pierced as easily as if it had been a melon." This crime is not literally about the death of the Swede, but is a reflection of the true demons that lye within each of us despite the outward appearance we portray to the world. At what point, do we as human beings, lose control of ourselves when faced with a difficult decision?

In "The Blue Hotel", Crane does a remarkable job of creating between his characters a struggle through fear and the overpowering need to be in control of their environment and experiences. I think it is interesting to point out that Crane wittingly connected the reader to the characters. Through his skillful manipulation of his characters, the reader became weary of the Swede. His character Johnnie and even the gambler seemed more appealing and likeable than the Swede himself. During the escalated scenes, the reader finds themselves wanting the Swede to go away and maybe even killed. Through his employment of techniques, Crane draws the reader into the position of being partly "responsible" for the Swede's death in order to show how the character's guilt is also society's guilt.

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