Stephen Crane’s short story “The Open Boat” is a story of conflict with nature and the human will and fight to survive. Four men find themselves clinging to life on a small boat amidst a raging sea after being shipwrecked. The four men, the oiler (Billie), the injured captain, the cook, and the correspondent are each in their own way battling the sea as each wave crest threatens to topple the dinghy. “The Open Boat” reflects human nature’s incredible ability to persevere under life-and-death situations, but it also shares a story of tragedy with the death of the oiler. It is human nature to form a brotherhood with fellow sufferers in times of life threatening situations to aid in survival. Weak from hunger and fatigue, the stranded men work together as a community against nature to survive their plight and the merciless waves threatening to overtake the boat. The brotherhood bond shared between the men in “The Open Boat” is evident through the narrator’s perspective, “It would be difficult to describe the subtle brotherhood of men that was here established on the seas. No one said that it was so. No one mentioned it. But it dwelt in the boat, and each man felt it warm him” (Crane 993). Crane understood first-hand the struggle and the reliance on others having survived the real life shipwreck of the S.S. Commodore off the coast of Florida in 1897. “The Open Boat” is an intriguing read due to Crane’s personal experience and though it is a fictional piece it shares insight into the human mind. Crain did not simply retell a story, but by sharing the struggles with each character he sought to portray the theme of an inner struggle with nature by using the literary devices of personification of nature, symbolism of the boat, and irony that causes the reader to look deeper into mankind’s place in the universe.
“The Open Boat” captures four different men’s perspectives of the human experience when faced with a life-and-death struggle to survive. Crane’s theme of mankind’s internal struggle with nature is exemplified by examining each of the four main characters. The sea was constant and infinite and each wave was relentless in its attack on the boat. Each of the men had a responsibility within the dinghy and even though they did not seem equally important, they were to the overall odds of the men’s survival. The immediate focus is to face one wave at a time in order to survive. The intensity of their focus and their immediate danger is painted with Crane’s opening paragraph in “The Open Boat”.
None of them new the color of the sky. Their eyes glanced level, and were fastened upon the waves that swept toward them. These waves were of the hue of slate, save for the tops, which were of foaming white, and all of the men knew the colors of the sea. The horizon narrowed and widened, and dipped and rose, and at all times its edge was jiggered with waves that seemed thrust up in points like rocks. (Crane 990).
The oiler though he is physically worn is the...