In 1897 acclaimed writer Stephen Crane boarded a freighter commissioned to smuggle weapons and munitions to Cuba; he was to document the journey, but quickly after departure, the freighter sank. The literary classic "The Open Boat", which Crane penned after surviving this disaster, had nothing to do with the intended purpose of the voyage, but instead focused on the will of man versus nature and is the greatest short story of Naturalistic literature.
Protagonists carry a great significance in Naturalism( ). Crane begins not with the details of the sinking vessel, but by immediately introducing the surviving characters in a lifeboat: the ship’s captain, the cook, the correspondent and an oiler; introduced primarily by their shipboard occupations as nameless men that continued to observe a hierarchal societal structure, even during the matter of survival. The crew had knowledge of their distance to shore. Had the men been shipwrecked much farther out in the sea, it is doubtful this structure and the spirit of cooperation would have held for long, “Natural selection and survival of the fittest help to depict the struggle against nature as a hopeless fight” (Scheidenhelm).
The author highlighted two of four protagonists: The Captain and the cook. “The injured captain, lying in the bow, was at this time buried in that profound dejection and indifference which comes, temporarily at least, to even the bravest and most enduring when, willy nilly, the firm fails, the army loses, the ship goes down.”(Perkins). Here Crane tells us that we are not masters of our own destiny; even powerful men are humbled by fate.
The cook is depicted as somewhat lacking in seamanship skills and it is vaguely mentioned that he he...
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...ntain the human trait of interdependence by continuing to seek assistance from those ashore; baffled that they have not been observed and given immediate priority. This is an internal conflict man must continually overcome to arrive at his own independence. This is inherent in the will to live. If they would have arrived at this maturity sooner they would not have stayed overnight at sea, they could have formed a more intelligent plan to get to the shore.
Author Stephen Cranes “The Open Boat” further successfully helped the literary world to the Naturalism genre. When critiqued from a Formalist perspective what’s observed is how the story touches on many of the genres literary devices such as character class, determinism, and nature’s control of man. The author, quite the wordsmith, manages to write a very engaging story that will entertain for generations to come.
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