The Power of Nature Revealed in The Open Boat
In 1894, Stephen Crane said, "A man said to the universe: 'Sir, I exist!' 'However,' replied the universe, 'The fact has not created in me a sense of obligation.'" This short encounter of man and nature is representative of Crane’s view of nature. However, he did not always see nature as indifferent to man. In 1887, he survived a shipwreck with two other men. "The Open Boat" is his account from an outsider’s point of view of the two days spent in a dinghy. Crane pays special attention to the correspondent, who shares the chore of rowing with the oiler. While rowing, he contemplates his situation and the part that nature plays in it. Mainly through the correspondent’s reflection, Crane shows the power that nature and experience have in expanding people’s ignorant opinions of the world around them.
In the beginning, the four men in the boat view nature as evil and unjust. Crane portrays this through the men’s reactions to the waves and the seagulls. They describe the waves as "most wrongfully and barbarously abrupt and tall" (245). Later in their journey, the correspondent notices "the tall black waves that [sweep] forward in a most sinister silence, save for an occasional subdued growl of a crest" (254). Each of these examples show that the men in the boat feel that nature is out to get him. The waves are seen as a living enemy force. The men also view the seagulls as threatening. They hover around the boat and when they finally fly away, the men feel relieved. In a critique of "The Open Boat", Donald Gibson explains that "as observers we know the sea is in fact not hostile, that the sea gulls are not actually gruesome and ominous. But the men in the boat have this to learn" (Gibson 130). In other words, the men’s view of nature is inaccurate. They are afraid, but have not yet considered that nature is not their enemy. In addition, the correspondent feels that nature is unjust. Three times during the story, he wonders, "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?" (251). Through the repetition of this phrase, the reader finds that the correspondent struggles to find sense in the acts of nature.
As the men’s time in the dinghy continues, the correspondent begins to develop a deeper understanding of the world around him. Crane demonstrates this through symbolism. The correspondent is frustrated when he realizes that "nature does not regard him as important, and that she feels she would not maim the...