Naturalism versus Compassion in The Open Boat
During the late 19th-century, literature makes a distinct shift from the popular realist style of writing to a naturalistic approach in storytelling. Naturalism in literature portrays the guiding of human behavior solely by base instinct and external environmental factors rather than individual choice. One may identify this style of writing by an accounting of details in a story that is free of emotional influences, a tale of the harshness of life and one's circumstances (Encarta). Stephen Crane, an American author, contributes much to the Naturalism movement by mitigating this often-brutal style of prose. In "The Open Boat," Crane allays the cruelty of fate with his compassionate portrayal of the shipwrecked crew.
One method the author uses to lighten the severity of the situation is to focus on the hope for survival in the castaways. Early in the story, the Captain assures the crew in telling them that ""¦ we'll get to the shore all right" (Crane 729; further references by page number only). Once one of the crewmembers sees a lighthouse, the Captain reassures the crew that they ""¦ can't do much else" (730) when they question him if they will make it to shore. The pessimistic cook gleams with hope upon reaching the proximity of the shore stating, "They've seen us now, and it won't be long before they'll come chasing out after us" (734). Crane provides a more sympathetic depiction of the events through the wish of the crew to live.
In addition to hope, Crane palliates the brutality of the crew's lot is in his depiction of the brotherhood these mariners share. The author tells of an unspoken bond forming among the shipwrecked men, a "subtle brotherhood"¦ on the seas" (730). The men, when considering their possible demise, exchange personal information to...