Role
It is not surprising for an authors background and surroundings to profoundly
affect his writing. Having come from a Methodist lineage and living at a time
when the church was still an influential facet in peoples daily lives,
Stephen Crane was deeply instilled with religious dogmas. However, fear of
retribution soon turned to cynicism and criticism of his idealistic parents
God, “the wrathful Jehovah of the Old Testament”, as he was confronted
with the harsh realities of war as a journalistic correspondent. Making
extensive use of religious metaphors and allusions in The Blue Hotel (1898),
Crane thus explores the interlaced themes of the sin and virtue. Ironically,
although “he disbelieved it and hated it,” Crane simply “could
not free himself from” the religious background that haunted his entire
life. His father, a well-respected reverend in New Jersey, advocated Bible
reading and preached “the right way.” Similarly, his mother, who
“lived in and for religion,” was influential in Methodist church
affairs as a speaker and a journalist in her crusade against the vices of her
sinful times . This emotional frenzy of revival Methodism had a strong impact on
young Stephen. Nonetheless, he — falling short of his parents expectations
on moral principles and spiritual outlook — chose to reject and defy all those
abstract religious notions and sought to probe instead into lifes realities.


Moreover, Cranes genius as “an observer of psychological and social
reality” was refined after witnessing battle sights during the late 19th
century. What he saw was a stark contrast of the peacefulness and morality
preached in church and this thus led him to religious rebelliousness. As a
prisoner to his surroundings, man (a soldier) is physically, emotionally, and
psychologically challenged by natures indifference to humankind. For
instance, in the story, “what traps the Swede is his fixed idea of his
environment,” but in the end, it is the environment itself — comprised of
the Blue Hotel, Sculley, Johnnie, Cowboy Bill, the Easterner, and the saloon
gambler — that traps him. To further illustrate how religion permeated into
Cranes writing, many scenes from The Blue Hotel can be cited. Similar to the
biblical Three Wise Men, three individuals out of the East came traveling to
Palace Hotel at Fort Romper. The issue explored is the search for identity and
the desire of an outsider (the Swede) to define himself through conflict with a
society. Referring then to the martyr-like Swede, who is convinced that everyone
is against him, the Easterner says “… he thinks hes right in the
middle of hell”. On the contrary, the Blue Hotel can be seen as a church,
with its proprietor Patrick Scully who looks “curiously like an old
priest” and who vows that “a guest under my roof has sacred
privileges”. Personification of a wrathful God is portrayed when the guests
are escorted through the portals of a room that “seemed to be merely a
proper temple for an enormous stove…humming with god-like violence”.

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Additionally, alluding to baptism, the guests then formed part of a “series
of small ceremonies” by washing themselves in the basins of water. To
further prove the innocence of his building, Scully points out the pictures of
his little girl on the wall. All in all, in contrast to the safe haven of the
hotel, the reality is that “hell” turns out to be the red-lighted town
saloon where the Swede is eventually murdered. Another recurring topic in
Cranes writing is the responsibility for a mans death. For not acting upon
his knowledge of Johnnies sin (his lying and cheating at the card game), the
Easterner is portrayed as a betrayer, with guilt eating him inside. At the
beginning, no one at the hotel would discuss fear or death with the Swede. Thus,
in repentance on his part, the Easterner comments, “Every sin is the result
of a collaboration”. Indeed, in the end, the conspiracy of silence between
the 5 men involved in the murder leads to a brutal result: The Swede
“losses fear and gains death”. A rhetorical question is left then for
the reader to reflect upon, posed innocently by the Cowboy, “Well, I
didnt do anythin, did I?”. In conclusion, it can be seen that —
through the exploration of responsibility, guilt, betrayal, and repentance —
Stephen Crane develops the theme that man is alone in a hostile society and
nature. The virtuous religious dogmas cannot always explain and help make sense
of the cruel realities that each of us faces. Thus, it is only through trusting
“the God of ones inner thoughts” that one can hope to cope with
and survive in this brutal world.

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