Religion And The Blue Hotel Essay, Research Paper
Sin & Virtue: What Role Does Religion Play In Stephen Crane?s The Blue Hotel?
It is not surprising for an author?s background and surroundings to profoundly affect his or her writing. Stephen Crane came from a Methodist lineage and lived at a time when the church was still an influential facet in many people?s daily lives. Crane was deeply instilled with religious dogma. However, fear of retribution soon turned to cynicism and criticism of his idealistic parents? God, ?the wrathful Jehovah of the Old Testament? (Stallman 16), 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 explores the intertwined themes of sin and virtue.
Ironically, although ?he disbelieved and hated it,? Crane simply ?could not free himself from? the religious background that haunted him throughout his entire life (Stallman 5). His father, a well-respected reverend in New Jersey, was an advocate of Bible reading and teaching and preached ?the right way.? Similarly, his mother, ?lived in and for religion,? and was influential in the Methodist church affairs as a speaker (Stallman 5). She also was a journalist who wrote against the ?evil vices that were flagrantly displayed in her sinful times? (Solomon 15). Rejecting and defying all those abstract religious notions and seeking to probe life?s realities Crane fell short of his parents? expectations on moral principles and spiritual outlook.
Moreover, Crane?s genius as ?an observer of psychological and social reality? (Baym 1608) was refined after witnessing battle sights during the latter part of the 19th century. What he saw was stark contrast of the peacefulness and morality preached in church and thus led him to religious rebelliousness.
As a prisoner to his surroundings, a soldier is physically, emotionally, and psychologically challenged by nature?s indifference to mankind. For instance, in The Blue Hotel, ?what traps the Swede is his fixed ideas of his environment? (Stallman 488). But in the end, it is the environment itself, which encompasses the Blue Hotel, Scully, Johnnie, Cowboy Bill, the Easterner, and the saloon gambler, that is his captor.
To further illustrate how religion permeated Crane?s writing, many scenes from The Blue Hotel may be cited. Similar to the biblical Three Wise Men, three individuals came traveling out of the East to the 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 he is right in the middle of hell? (Crane 1633). On the contrary, the Blue Hotel can be interpreted as a church, with its proprietor Patrick Scully who Crane describes as being ?curiously like an old priest? (1634). Scully also vows that ?a guest under my roof has acred privileges? just as a preacher might speak about his congregation (Crane 1635). Personification of a wrathful God is portrayed when the guests are escorted through the doorway of a room that ?seemed to be merely a proper temple for an enormous stove?humming with god-like violence? (Crane 1627). Additionally, Crane alludes to baptism by describing when the guests formed part of a ?series of small ceremonies? by washing themselves in the basins of water (Crane 1628). Scully attempts to further prove the innocence of his hotel by pointing out ?pictures of his little girl? which hang on the wall (Crane 1632). All in all, in contrast to the safe haven of the hotel, the reality that hell turns out to be the red-lighted town saloon where the Swede is eventually murdered.
Another recurring topic in Crane?s writing is the responsibility for a man?s death. For not acting upon the knowledge of Johnnie?s sin, his lying and cheating at the card game, the Easterner is portrayed as a traitor with guilt eating his insides. In the beginning, no one at the hotel is willing to discuss fear or death with the Swede. The Easterner, in repentance for his part in the murder, comments, ?Every sin is the result of a collaboration? (Crane 1645). Indeed in the end, the conspiracy of silence between the five men involved in the murder leads to a brutal resort: The Swede ?loses fear and gains death? (Solomon 257-258). A rhetorical question is then left for the reader to reflect upon, as the Cowboy poses the question, ?well, I didn?t do anything did I?? (Crane 1645).
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 harsh brutal world.