Stephen Crane: The Open Boat In his short story, ‘The Open Boat,’ Stephen Crane displays to us a universe completely indifferent to the affairs of humankind; we live in an apathetic world, in which man has to fight and struggle to live. The characters illustrated in the story come faceto-face with this indifference and all are nearly overcome by nature’s lack of concern with humanity. The survivors are alive primarily through determination and cooperation. We as human are alive because our constant struggles to co-exist in this universe.
Crane illustrates to readers how we are all in an endless battle for our life in a world that doesn’t seem to care for us, as much as we care for ourselves. We as humans tend to think of ourselves as the leaders of the universe. We choose to think that we have a greater calling in the grand scheme of everything that this world has to offer. We speak of our destiny, as if we were put on earth for some motive, or purpose. Religion is one reason why individuals believe we were placed of earth for a greater cause. Religion is a main source of what gives us our drive to live, and gives our lives meaning.
Crane’s story chooses to take another path that makes us as readers think about what would happen if there were no humans on earth? What would change? Would earth stop spinning? Or would it continue at a regular fashion? ‘The Open Boat is characteristic of Crane’s naturalistic style. “Naturalism in literature is a point of view that often emphasizes the material, the physical environment as a determinant in human behavior”(Fiorelli and Edward 1). ‘The Open Boat’ is based on Crane’s experience of surviving a shipwreck off the coast of Florida.
The shipwreck happened while Crane was traveling to Cuba to work as a newspaper correspondent. Crane was shipwrecked at sea for around 28 hours when his ship, the SS Commodore, sank after colliding into a sandbar. Crane and three other men were involuntary forced to traverse the sea to reach shore in a small lifeboat; one of the men, an oiler named Billie Higgins, drowned after the lifeboat capsized. ‘The Open Boat’ begins with four men lost at sea. They’re in a lifeboat off the coast of Florida. Their boat sank, and we as readers can see that they are distraught about the event.
The sea is fierce, and they’re having a tough time trying to keep the lifeboat afloat in the rough, murky waters. The four men on the boat are the captain, cook, oiler, and a correspondent. Crane does an excellent job of including characters that represent different parts of human society. The captain embodies the leaders contained in society, the cook represents the followers, the oiler represents the workingmen and the correspondent represents the natural thinkers. The correspondent functions as the narrator for the story. He also is the only character in the story that has a name.
While the captain is calling shots and working in the bridge, the cook is cooking on the boat’s bottom floor and the oiler working at his oar. The correspondent is standing on the deck as he is watching the waves and wondering how everything he has done in life got him to where he is now. Through this interpretation, we know that Crane is displaying to the readers that the correspondent is going to be the main protagonist in the story. “The story goes beyond mere journalistic accuracy and makes a statement about man’s relationship to nature, his place in the universe”(Fiorelli and Edward 1).
The story contains various themes and motifs that Crane used to drag the readers in and really get the reader thinking about what life has to offer humans. Does nature and life on this planet really have anything to offer humans? “The overwhelming theme of the story is the conflict between the men and the cold indifference of the sea. The sea, in fact, is a character in its own right, an elemental force, unmindful of the human struggle to survive.
The sea, as an analogue to nature, is cruel or sportive, taunting, menacing, or easeful, having no ther motive but the exercise of its own power”(Fiorelli and Edward 1). As the four men are on the verge of death, the correspondent remembers a story that he was told when he was younger. It was about a soldier of the Legion who laid dying in Algiers. When he was younger, he had no need for the story, and thus it was truly indifferent. Now, on the brink of death, he understands that nature and the sea are indifferent to both him and the soldier. Nature truly doesn’t care whether either man died or not.
He and the soldier are hence brothers, involved in the complete indifference of fate. Survival on the gloomy sea or in a field in Algiers is a matter of chance, a complete and total indifference. The correspondent luckily lives the horrible experience that he is forced to face. However, the oiler, the strongest of the group, is overcome by nature and drowns when the boat capsizes. The reader then notices that nature can claim anyone. Showing the potential strength that nature harnesses. “Man’s struggles in the face of this elemental indifference are often marked by a grim irony.
The oiler, the strongest of the group, drowns, but the sea leaves unclaimed the correspondent, the wounded captain and the cowardly cook”(Fiorelli and Edward 1). Another main theme of ‘The Open Boat’ is the overwhelming sense that if society groups together, it can potentially be strong enough to fight off nature’s indifference for life. In grouping the men together in the lifeboat and creating a society on the micro level, Crane establishes one of man’s greatest inventions, society in itself, pitting it against a harsh, merciless nature. When faced with the rough, murky sea.
This allows the men in the lifeboat to start grouping together because they begin to understand that society is the greatest resistance against the indifference of nature. This heartfelt and meaningful event that the men were put through made them realize that we need to society, in a world full chaos, to potentially fight whatever may come our way. This may have been a religious experience for them. It allowed the men to gain an undying respect for their fellow man. They finally understood that it takes determination and cooperation to fight a battle. That is exactly what these guys did.
For the most part, they won the battle against nature and it’s indifference to man. Crane also uses many images to tell the story. We can see that he creates an image of an ocean that is massive and unforgiving; while comparing the men to being in a bathtub. “The men are belittled by the sea, their boat compared to ‘a bathtub,’ the waves ‘slate walls’ or ‘snarling’ crests” (Fiorelli and Edward 1). “Crane’s story is mixed with nature poetry, sentimental poetry, hymns, and landscape art, as well as with Darwinism, theological cliches, and, less obviously, theological actualities” (Hilfer 248).