Themes Of Nature, Brotherhood, And Knowledge In "The Open Boat" By Stephen Crane

2769 words - 11 pages

In "The Open Boat" Stephen Crane uses the sea and four men adrift in a dinghy as a framework for communicating his ideas about life. The story, in my opinion, is a metaphor for life. The four men are helpless against the indifferent, yet overwhelming forces of nature. In "The Open Boat," Stephen Crane not only comments on the role of nature and God in the life of man, but the importance of community and brotherhood, and the nature of an individual's journey to knowledge."The Open Boat" was written following Stephen Crane's real life experience when a ship he was aboard, The Commodore, sunk on January 22, 1897 off the coast of Florida on its way to Cuba. He and three others, the captain, oiler and cook, as in his fictional account, were able to make their way back to shore after a harrowing thirty hour journey. Billy Higgins, reflected in the story as the oiler, died close to shore (Schaefer 296). Some commentators have proposed that because the story so closely mirrors his real life experience, it crosses from fiction to nonfiction. Stefanie Bates Eye states that "'The Open Boat' is not more fictional or invented than Stephen Crane's 'Own Story' and that both narratives follow the historical sequence of events surrounding the Commodore disaster as verified in contemporary newspaper reports, the ship's log and other shipping records, and accounts by witnesses" (75). Bates presents various opinions about the ongoing debate regarding the status of "The Open Boat" as a fiction or literary nonfiction and comes to the following conclusion: "It is our responsibility to accept the integrity of his vision as consistent with nonfictional truth-telling and consider "The Open Boat" as an early-perhaps one of the first-examples of literary nonfiction" (77).However, others feel that Crane, perhaps stifled by journalism, sought to write about the philosophical meaning of his shipwreck experience, and creatively used the historical facts as a framework to get his ideas across. Crane also wrote "Stephen Crane's Own Story," which describes the sinking of the ship that "the history of life in an open boat for 30 hours would no doubt be very instructive for the young, but none is to be told here now" (Schaefer 297). Perhaps this admission regarding the factual account would lead one to assume "The Open Boat" to be for a larger purpose. Many critics rate the story highly because it is both realistic and symbolic. It is, in Stallman's words, "a direct transcript of personal experience….transformed into an impersonal and symbolic representation of life: the plight of man tossed upon an indifferent sea" (qtd. in Schaefer 315). Marston La France supports this view by stating thatnothing more clearly illustrates the essential insignificance of external facts in a Crane story than a comparison of 'The Open Boat' with his own news report of the disaster, for in the report the reader gets only the literal truth of the fact, whereas Crane's structure imposed upon the...

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