Term Paper (Advanced seminar), 2006, 15 Pages
Term Paper (Advanced seminar)
2 Literary Determinism
3 The Determinism of Perception
3.2 Inner and Outer Perspective
3.3 The Addition of a Focus Through Jack Potter
3.4 A Complete Change of Perspective
3.5 A Humane and an Animal Perspective
4 The Determinism of Actions
4.1 The Interdependence of the Characters
4.2 A New Deterministic Force: the East
4.3 The West as a Deterministic Force
5 The Significance of the West
In many of his short stories, Stephen Crane shows that his characters are ruled by a deterministic universe. The individual has no significant status in nature and is dominated by forces he is not able to protect himself from. These deterministic forces can be external, like the environment or the circumstances of a person, or internal, like his instincts, his experiences, etc.
This text will try to show how the perception and the actions of the characters in “The Bride Comes to Yellow Sky” are determined. Moreover, it draws a connection between the multiperspectivity applied in the story and its consequences for perception. It will also explore to what extent the West plays a role as a determining force.
Literary determinism is one of the features inherent in naturalism, which is “a type of literature that attempts to apply scientific principles of objectivity and detachment to its study of human beings” (Campbell, 2006). Men are seen as animal-like beasts, “governed by their instincts and passions” (Campbell, 2006). They live in a “universe that reveals free will as an illusion” (Campbell, 2006). According to determinism, “our decisions and the like and also our actions flowing from them are the effects of certain ordinary causal sequences” (Honderich, 2003). Thus, any human being is nothing but a plaything of nature without a chance to change the course of his life. Together with the struggle for survival, violence, and taboos, determinism is one of the core topics of naturalist literature (cf. Campbell, 2006).
“Crane had a very deterministic perspective of life” (Backman, 1991: 83). In “The Bride Comes to Yellow Sky,” he presents “man as a victim of external force and much in life as beyond his control” (Backman, 1991: 120).
A very interesting feature of Crane’s style represented in this story is the constant change of perspectivity. This, of course, determines perception because each individual perceives his environment in a different way. Thus, the perspectives in this story determine the way perception is described.
With his type of fictional style, Stephen Crane intended to come as close to reality as possible (cf. Bergon, 1975: 1). However, “the singleness of tone and perception of the first-person narrator was too narrow to render the full dimensions of his imagined world” (Bergon, 1975: 18). Thus, he created “a complex welter of narrative voices” (Bergon, 1975: 1) in order to supply the reader with a range of perspectives. This has the consequence that the reader has to “both be sympathetic to the character’s perspective by sharing it, and at the same time see the irony in that distorted world view given to [him] in narrative intrusions” (Backman, 1991: 88).
Another reason for using various perspectives may be a general distrust in perception. In his stories, “[t]he world that a character sees gets its meaning from illusion. It is the perception of the character that defines the essence of the object he sees” (Backman, 1991: 90). The main focus is set on experience. But the question arises of whether one can still trust perception if it is as determined as according to the impression given in the story.
The following chapters will show how perception in “The Bride Comes to Yellow Sky” changes and what external or internal forces determine the individual perceptions.
At the beginning of the story, an extradiegetic narrator describes a couple who is taking a train ride. Instead of providing the reader with the characters’ names, he merely refers to them as “the bride” (Crane: 219) and “the man” (Crane: 219) or “the new husband” (Crane: 220). They are identified as members of the under-class by mentioning that “a direct result of his new black clothes was that his brick-colored hands were constantly performing in a most conscious fashion” (Crane: 219), and that her “blushes caused by the careless scrutinity of some passengers […] were strange to see upon this plain, under-class countenance” (Crane: 219). The color of the husband’s hands implies that he is not a gentleman who wears gloves, and who has never been exposed to bodily labor. Moreover, the way he moves his hands shows that he is not familiar with the gentlemanly codes of behavior. His wife looks as if “she had cooked, and that she expected to cook, dutifully” (Crane: 219), and acts according to pleasing her husband: “To evince surprise at her husband’s statement was part of her wifely amiability” (Crane: 220).
Their clumsy behaviour together with the reactions of the other travellers and the porters, who show “an amused and superior grin” (Crane: 220) or grow “excessively sardonic” (Crane: 221) while surveying the couple, produces a ridiculous image. This is furthermore strengthened by comparing their unfitting perception of the coach they are riding in to the outer perception given by the narrator. “To the minds of the pair, their surroundings reflected the glory of their marriage” (Crane: 220). While ‘glory’ leads to the association of gold, riches, and strong and warm colors, what they actually see is “sea-green figured velvet” (Crane: 220), “the wood that gleamed as darkly brilliant as the surface of a pool of oil” (Crane: 220), and “frescoes in olive and silver” (Crane: 220). The colors described are cold and dark. Not even the green is as lush and promising as it would have to be in order to signify hope, but “olive” and “sea-green” (Crane: 220). Also, a “pool of oil” (Crane: 220), reminding of labor, machines, and dirt does not seem to be an appropriate comparison to the glory felt after a wedding.
The behavior of the two individuals is determined by a very recent experience: their marriage. This makes them perceive things in a positive way. Ironically though, their perception seems to differ from everyone else’s, which exposes them to bullying.
In the middle of page 221, the narrative perspective suddenly changes. The husband is now presented as “Jack Potter” (Crane: 221), who is the “town-marshal of Yellow Sky,” and thus “a man known, liked and feared in his corner, a prominent person” (Crane: 221). In addition, the reader gains psychological insight into the character. Although the couple has been introduced as “evidently very happy” (Crane: 219), Jack is now said to have married “a girl he believed he loved” (Crane: 221; my emphasis). In his thoughts, his marriage is referred to in a business-like manner as a “transaction” (Crane: 221). This expression undermines the narrator’s earlier descriptions of the husband “looking tenderly into her eyes” (Crane: 220), and “smiling with delight” (Crane: 219). Instead of being happy about taking his wife back to his hometown, he now feels “that he was heinous” (Crane: 221) for marrying her without “consulting” (Crane: 221) his friends. Here, the question arises of whether a town-marshal has to consult anyone for any purposes, and especially for personal ones. A man who is respected and even “feared in his corner” (Crane: 221) should not depend on anyone’s blessing to his actions and decisions. Also, the omniscient narrator contradicts Jack Potter by stating that “people in Yellow Sky married as it pleased them” (Crane: 221). He even calls their behavior “a general custom” (Crane: 221), and enforces this information by adding “[o]f course” (Crane: 221). As a consequence, Jack’s attitude appears unfounded and exaggerated. The duty he feels towards his friends “does not control men in these matters” (Crane: 221), as te narrator states. Thus, the following sentence hits the reader with an exceptionally strong surprise: “He had committed an extraordinary crime” (Crane: 221f).
The narrator mixes judging and explanatory comments with the internalized view of his character. Hence, the reader is confronted with a character’s attitude he does not understand and is not supposed to identify with because it is constantly contradicted by the narrator.
 A full bibliography of this short story is given on page 13.
 However, Potters thoughts are also influenced by further circumstances, as the following chapter tries to show.
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