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Reading and Discussion Questions on Stephen Crane's "The Blue Hotel"

Read the story online
Bibliography of Criticism on "The Blue Hotel" (another bibliography)
Answering identification questions (Example: "The Blue Hotel")

1. How does Crane describe each of the principal characters in the work? Why does he typically refer to them as “the Easterner,” “the cowboy,” “the Swede,” and so forth instead of naming them? What characteristics does he ascribe to each person?

2. The ideas of conflict and of collaboration are important in this story. What are the conflicts and collaborations in the story? Which characters are at odds with what other characters? Why?

3. How does the setting enhance the action of the story? In what ways does Crane use the setting to symbolize the action of the story?

4. Why does Scully insist that the Swede stay in the hotel even after it's clear that the Swede wants to leave? Why does he show the pictures of his children and give the Swede whiskey to drink?

5. What is the significance of these items in the story?

•  The idea of “square”

•  The overheated stove (and fire more generally)

•  The hotel and its surroundings

•  The blizzard, wind, and snow

•  The cash register

•  The cards

6. Why does the setting shift from the hotel to the saloon at the end of the story? What is the significance of the “legend that dwelt atop the cash-machine”?

7. Who is to blame for the Swede's death? If so, are all of them equally responsible? Explain.

8.The Easterner explains the murder of the Swede in this way: "We are all in it! This poor gambler isn't even a noun. He is kind of an adverb. Every sin is the result of a collaboration. We, five of us, have collaborated in the murder of this Swede. Usually there are from a dozen to forty women really involved in every murder, but in this case it seems to be only five men -- you, I, Johnnie, old Scully, and that fool of an unfortunate gambler came merely as a culmination, the apex of a human movement, and gets all the punishment." Are we to read this seriously as an explanation of why the Swede was killed? Or is it possible that Mr. Blanc is grasping at straws and trying to find an explanation for a random event? Why might he try to do this?

9. In what ways is this a naturalistic story? In addition to looking at the themes and characters of the story, look at some of the descriptions:

Examples from Section VIII:

    "He might have been in a deserted village. We picture the world as thick with conquering and elate humanity, but here, with the bugles of the tempest pealing, it was hard to imagine a peopled earth. One viewed the existence of man then as a marvel, and conceded a glamour of wonder to these lice which were caused to cling to a whirling, fire-smote, ice-locked, disease-stricken, space-lost bulb. The conceit of man was explained by this storm to be the very engine of life. One was a coxcomb not to die in it. However, the Swede found a saloon."

"There was a great tumult, and then was seen a long blade in the hand of the gambler. It shot forward, and a human body, this citadel of virtue, wisdom, power, was pierced as easily as if it had been a melon. The Swede fell with a cry of supreme astonishment."