Man and Nature in The Blue Hotel and The Open Boat
Stephen Crane uses a massive, ominous stove, sprawled out in a tiny room and burning with "god-like violence," as a principal metaphor to communicate his interpretation of the world. Full of nearly restrained energy, the torrid stove is a symbol of the burning, potentially eruptive earth to which humans "cling" and of which they are a part. As a literary naturalist, Crane interpreted reality from a Darwinian perspective, and saw the earth driven by adamant natural laws, violent and powerful laws which are often hostile to humans and their societies, and he conceived of humans as accidents, inhabiting a harsh, irrational, dangerous world. Crane's famous depiction of the world is this: It is "a whirling, fire-smote, ice-locked, disease-stricken, space-lost bulb" (Crane 783). With two of his short stories, "The Blue Hotel" and "The Open Boat," Crane explores how humans react when the stove bursts and natural flames blaze furiously; Crane sets two different groups of men into situations in which the laws of nature are against them. The natural laws that govern the weather and the ocean storm against a group of men who are trying, albeit in an exhausted dinghy, to make the coast of Florida in the story "The Open Boat." In "The Blue Hotel," the animalistic laws that determine human behavior birth chaos among a group of strangers. One can readily see both similarities and differences in the reactions of the two groups of men to the world. That, in both stories, both groups of men are shocked and yet charmed by the violence of nature is an essential similarity; that in one story the men work together to save one another and in the other story the men beat and even kill one another is an essential difference. Another important difference exists, however, one which I will present and consider in this paper: In "The Open Boat," the characters honestly face pitiless nature as it is and then reckon with it, but, in "The Blue Hotel," the characters try to conceal the vicious laws of nature and to suppress their knowledge of reality.
In "The Open Boat," Crane writes of the "EXPERIENCE OF FOUR MEN FROM THE SUNK STEAMER COMMODORE" (743). Having escaped the sunken ship, the four men--the cook, the correspondent, the oiler, and the captain--are now in a dinghy sailing obstinately in the midst of a seething ocean for the coast of Florida. From the beginning of the story till the end, one can admire these honest men, who confront such a dangerous environment.
One passage that comes early in the story shows their honest acceptance of reality: "A singular disadvantage of the sea lies in the fact that 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" (744). Passages like this one in which the characters personify...