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The Open Boat: Crane's View Of Naturalism

1134 words - 5 pages

To define one's purpose is at the very least human nature and at the very most the meaning of life. Humans seek the significance of existence and try to define it in many ways. There are thousands of religions and countless seminars to help people discover the point of human existence. The idea that we may all be irrelevant in the grand scheme of life or to the universe is not a popular position. In his short story "The Open Boat" Stephen Crane shows a universe that is unconcerned with the struggles of four men within a small boat lost at sea. Through the characters' experiences Crane shows the human struggle to survive as viewed in a naturalistic perspective as opposed to other prevalent 19th Century concepts.

There are four men stranded on a boat who are introduced in the beginning of the story. The cook, the oiler, the correspondent, and the captain are all on a boat that "a man ought to have a bath tub larger than" (360). As the men fight the crest of each wave they encounter, it is obvious that this is a desperate situation. Showing their powerlessness the narrator describes a group of birds as sitting ."..comfortably in groups, and they were envied by some in the dinghy, for the wrath of the sea was no more to them than it was to a covey of prairie chickens a thousand miles inland" (363). Even though the men are in grave danger, the sun rises and sets and a shark even swims by but seems to have no need for the men in the boat. The men even believe that the waves are harsh on them and want to capsize the boat. The narrator explains that "[the waves were] nervously anxious to do something effective in the way of swamping boats" (361). Even though it is obvious that the ocean always has waves, it is hard for the men to understand that they are merely caught in the wrong place at the wrong time.

Although the men are experiencing the ocean as it always is, they still seem to believe that nature has some sort of decision to make about their survival. When they exchange addresses after they realize that all of them may not make it to shore, the men say, "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" (369). The men believe that it would be "an abominable injustice to drown a man who had worked so hard, so hard [to survive]. The man felt it would be a crime most unnatural. Other people had drowned at sea since galleys swarmed with painted sails, but still" (377). Here Crane is pointing out the reality that these men are victims of circumstance, and if they survive it will be chance rather than fate. The narrator says, "When it occurs to a man that nature does not regard him as important, and that she feels she would not maim the universe by disposing of him, he at first wishes to throw bricks at the temple, and he hates deeply the fact that there are no bricks and no temples" (377). This is an important point in...

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