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The Gilded and the Gritty: America, 1870-1912
Topic: MemoryTopic: ProgressTopic: PeopleTopic: PowerTopic: Empire
Topic: Empire: Manifest Destiny and Beyond
Toolbox Overview: The Gilded and the Gritty: America, 1870-1912
Resource Menu: Empire
Text 1. Frederick Jackson Turner, The Significance of the Frontier in American History
Text 2. Stephen Crane, The Bride Comes to Yellow Sky
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Text 3. The Future of the Red Man
Text 4. William F. Cody and John M. Burke, Buffalo Bill's Wild West and Congress of Rough Riders of the World
Text 5. The New Frontier, Albert Beveridge and William Jennings Bryan
Text 6. Theodore Roosevelt, The Strenuous Life
Text 7. The White Man's Burden
Text 8. Mark Twain, To the Person Sitting in Darkness, The Dervish and the Offensive Stranger
Text 9. Aguinaldo's Case Against the United States
Text 10. Two Wars, Memorial Day, The Twelve-Inch Gun

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Reading Guide
Stephen Crane
Stephen Crane
Stephen Crane, "The Bride Comes to Yellow Sky," short story, McClure's Magazine, February 1898

In a sense, this story captures the moment the frontier closes in Yellow Sky, Texas. Stephen Crane was born in Newark, New Jersey, in 1871, the fourteenth child of a Methodist minister. He started to write stories at the age of eight, and by the time he was sixteen his articles were appearing in the New York Tribune. In 1890 he took up the bohemian life in New York City, supporting himself as a free-lance writer and journalist. In 1893 he published Maggie: A Girl of The Streets, and in 1895 The Red Badge of Courage established his literary reputation. That same year Crane traveled from Nebraska through Texas to Mexico as a roving correspondent. He absorbed the atmosphere of the West just as the last vestiges of turbulent frontier life were waning. The trip inspired several Western stories, including "The Bride Comes to Yellow Sky."

By the time Crane wrote the story the West and its accompanying clichés had already become such staples of popular culture that he could parody them. In the story Jack Potter, Yellow Sky's sheriff, is returning by train from San Antonio with his new wife. He is uncomfortable because he feels that by getting married he has failed to live up to the expectations the town holds for its tough lawman. As the train arrives, Scratchy Wilson, Potter's long-time antagonist, is shooting up Yellow Sky in a whiskey-fueled rampage. He decides to go to Potter's house "and by bombardment induce him to come out and fight." When Potter and his bride arrive at the house, they find a furious Wilson between them and the front door. Wilson holds a pistol inches from the unarmed sheriff's chest and . . . . 13 pages.

Discussion questions
  1. In what sense is the West "pouring eastward," as Crane says in the beginning of the story?
  2. How does the East intrude upon the West?
  3. How are the East and the West linked?
  4. How does Crane depict the train and the operation of the railroad?
  5. What do the "Negro porters" and their attitude suggest?
  6. How does Crane create our expectations of the West, and how does he disrupt them?
  7. Compare Crane's depiction of the West to Owen Wister's in The Virginian (see MEMORY).
  8. How does the theme of marriage and domesticity figure into the story?
  9. How does Crane suggest the story's larger implications for the West?

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Topic Framing Questions
  •  How was the West incorporated into the nation?
  •  How did Americans respond to the nation's changing role in world affairs at this time?
  •  How did issues and concerns at home shape American policies and actions abroad?
  •  How did America project its power beyond its own borders?

Toolbox: The Gilded and the Gritty: America, 1870-1912
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