Open Boat

8 August 2016

What can Man do when faced with a Universe that has no concern for him? Begin to contemplate the belief that man has a role in the universe, that existence should mean something. A feeling of loneliness is conveyed from the understanding that man is alone in the universe and insignificant to the workings of the universe. In “The Open Boat” by Stephen Crane, Crane exemplifies mans insignificance to the universe and nature because ultimately fate decides and fate is an indifferent, uncontrollable, and inevitable force that possesses no consciousness that people can understand.

“The Open Boat” reflects Naturalistic ideas, the era in the late nineteenth century when American was growing rapidly and the individual felt unique and important (“Regionalism” 640). With technological breakthroughs of the Industrial Revolution, such as the first transcontinental railroad, new settlers arrived with a new vision of hope (“Regionalism” 643). Along with this new hope humankind began to believe they could both understand and dominate the forces of nature, “although, at the same time people continued to struggle despite their efforts; they could not escape fate”(“Regionalism” 640).

Open Boat Essay Example

Crane questions man’s self-confidence and underlines the concept that fate cannot be avoided. The idea of “survival of the fittest” arose during this era; the idea that the people at the top of society will prevail, a concept Crane directly opposes in “The Open Boat” (“Regionalism” 646). Scaggs 2Stephen Crane was a literary master who completed twelve volumes in only seven years. Crane could least be described as typical, he was a varied man who wrote in forms of realism, impressionism, and naturalism.

“The Open Boat” was based off Crane’s own experiences of being shipwrecked off the coast of Florida (Crane: Study Guide). Due to this relevance, Crane uses third person omniscient point of view to depict the realistic, life-threatening ordeal that captures the sensations and emotions of struggling to survive against the forces of nature. “The story serves as a description of actual events as well as a commentary on nature’s indifference to humanity’s fate” (Crane: Study Guide). Four men-the captain, the cook, the oiler, and the correspondent are shipwrecked after the steamer the Commodore sank.

The introduction of “The Open Boat” first describes the four men and their efforts to make it to salvation by rowing in a ten-foot dingy. The rising action is reveled through uses of descriptive imagery of the sea. The brutal forces of the sea and the near realization of death creates the conflict the men are faced with. The climax begins as the men reach sight of land but are unfortunately mistaken for fishermen, beginning a long night in search for salvation (Crane 225-27). Symbolism is spread across the story to lead insight of the men’s feelings as well as insight to their surroundings.

After the dreaded long night of rowing the men spot land and make plans to swim ahead creating the falling action of the story (Crane 238). The sea is primarily identified as an indifferent force during the swim toward land by choosing to save the correspondent but killing the oiler, resolving and ending the story (Crane 240). The conflicts of “The Open Boat” are both internal and external in order to explain the man vs. nature concept. Directly at the beginning the external conflict is reveled as Scaggs 3being the sea and nature itself.

“After successfully surmounting one wave you discover that there is another behind it just as important and just as nervously anxious to do something effective in the way of swamping boats” (Crane 216). Crane strengthens the idea that nature is indifferent to man by showing that is it randomly helpful and hurtful. James B. Colvert, a chief critic, agrees that the sea is described as hostile and indifferent force (“Stephen” 112). At the end of the story the correspondent it taken away by the swift current but whirled back toward the land, the very thing that has put him in harm’s way has saved him (Crane 239).

Along with the death of the oiler, Crane shows that nature does not act out of motivation and fate is inevitable. The internal conflict resides in the men’s realization that their survival is uncontrollable; it is up to fate. In “The Open Boat” by Stephen Crane it states, “If I am going to be drowned- if I am going to be drowned- if I am going to be drowned, why, in the name of the seven mad gods who rule the sea, was I allowed to come thus far and contemplate sand and trees? ” (Crane 232). This statement refers to the god’s who are traditionally in men’s lives as being absent toward the abandoned men.

This statement alludes to Peter denying Jesus; man denying God, but Crane inverts this scene to God denying man. “Irony is Crane’s chief technical instrument,” explains critic Robert Wooster Stallman (“Stephen” 108). In the statement “When it occurs to man that nature does not regard him as important… he at first wishes to throw bricks at the temple, and he hates deeply the fact that there are no bricks and no temples… Thereafter he knows the pathos of his situation,” it further describes the internal conflict of the realization of natures indifference (Crane 232).

Until this point nature and the sea was perceived as part of a higher power that governs fate, but the realization that Scaggs 4man means nothing to the universe or God causes the correspondent to lose his identity. Numerous passages reveal Crane’s great sense of imagery. Being on the boat is described as being on a bucking bronco and “seemed like a horse making at a fence outrageously high” (Crane 216). The men seem to recognize that they are helpless in the face of nature by describing nature as being vicious.

Further on in the story the men seem to get assistance from nature destroying the belief that nature is an entirely hostile force; proving nature is unbiased. James B. Colvert states Crane puts language into poetic uses such as the description shown when the correspondent is swept away by the water toward his doom (“Stephen” 112). The imagery described puts the scene into a picturesque view, “white slope of sand”, “green bluff”, and “silent cottages” are presented when the correspondent feels he is going to die (Crane 239).

“But later a wave perhaps whirled him out of this small deadly current…” this statement further explains the men are at the mercy of mere chance (Crane 239). “Crane transcribed it all from his experience, but he converted every detail into symbol…” explains critic Robert Wooster Stallman (“Stephen” 109). The symbols used serve as a deep understanding of the men’s emotions and the irony Crane creates. One of the more obvious, concrete symbols is the seaweed traveling along the side of the men. The seaweed is described as “bits of earth” that symbolizes land is near and the men are slowly progressing (Crane 219).

In a sense this sight instills a slight sense of hope and meaning for the men. The gulls that arise in the story stare at them with their black bead like eyes which brings discomfort to the sailors. Usually the gulls would represent a welcome sight; a sign that they are near land but ironically in this case they are near land Scaggs 5but have no way of making it safely (Crane 218). Every aspect of nature affects the men’s attitude and perception of their fate. The poem recited by the correspondent of the solider in Legion serves as one of the best abstract symbol for man’s unimportance to the universe.

The poem is about a solider who pitifully lies dying in a foreign land the correspondent relates this to his own plight. First hearing it as a child the poem was insignificant but as a grown man now he can better interpret the underlying meaning that nature now regards his death as trivial (Crane 233). He fears he will perish without any sense of his life giving meaning. Being at the mercy of fate proved how wrong the previous beliefs of the men had been about their own importance. Stephen Crane was a sophisticated writer who used irony, symbolism, imagery, and many more elements to get a specific understanding across.

By using irony he specifically opposed the beliefs of the era that only the strongest will survive, through the death of the oiler, the strongest, most diligent character in the story. His symbolism gets to the reader on a personal level of understanding furthering their engrossment. Of the naturalistic era Stephen Crane’s “The Open Boat” gave a dose of reality that at first seemed bitter, but gradually at the end stood as a testament to the human spirit. “The Open Boat” and other American Literature alike most effectively describes the influence of society and surroundings on the development of the individual.

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