To summarize, “The Blue Hotel” by Stephen Crane takes place at the Palace Hotel which is near a train station in rural Nebraska. The proprietor of the hotel, which is painted blue and is something of an attraction/eyesore in town, is named Scully. He meets a man at the train station whom we only know simply as “The Swede" throughout the entire story and persuades him to stay at his establishment. Scully also gets “The Easterner" and a cowboy to stay the night as well. When the three arrive at the hotel, they notice that The Swede is acting strangely. He seems convinced that everyone is trying to kill him, including the Scully’s son, Johnny.
The narrator in this short story by Stephen Crane describes how the other two residents of the hotel, the Easterner and the Cowboy are baffled and begin to get angry at The Swede’s behavior while Scully, trying to keep his guest happy, attempts to console him. This attempt starts to fail and the Swede goes upstairs to pack his bags and leave, despite the snowstorm, but Scully finally manages to talk him into staying. It seems that Swede has certain perceptions about the “wild West" and although this is just a small town in Nebraska (hardly the mythologized “old West" read about in dime-store Westerns) he is convinced he is in for rough treatment. The Swede finally comes back downstairs and his demeanor has changed entirely. One of the themes in “The Blue Hotel” revolves around male bravado and it should be noted how he is increasingly boastful as he gets drunk—a complete change from the cowardice he displayed before. He suddenly accuses Johnny of cheating at cards and the two go outside into the snowstorm to fight it out. The Swede whips Johnny and leaves the hotel, proud and swaggering. He makes it down to the local saloon where he meets a gambler whom he antagonizes. Much to the reader’s surprise, the gambler stabs the Swede, killing him. After this event, the Easterner, Johnny, and the Cowboy talk. The Easterner says that Johnny was, in fact, cheating and that they all had played a part in the Swede’s death.
The Blue Hotel first appeared in 1898 in a collection of Crane’s short stories entitled, The Monster and Other Stories. It is perhaps the most widely-read of all the tales in the collection and while it may seem, on the surface, to be a rather straightforward story about a man who gets in trouble after a stay at the Palace Hotel, there are several complex themes that drive the work and in some ways, define many of the overarching themes in novels like “Maggie, A Girl of the Streets” and more generally, of Crane’s entire body of work. Crane is the author of novels but is best known for short stories such as The Blue Hotel.