The Open Boat By Stephen Crane Essay

The Open Boat By Stephen Crane Essay

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No Bricks and No Temples: Coping with Crisis in “The Open Boat”
Stephen Crane’s story “The Open Boat” concerns four people who are trying to reach land after surviving a shipwreck off of the Florida coast. During the course of the story, they face dangers that are real physical threats, but they also have to deal with trying to make sense of their situation. The characters in this story cope with their struggles in two ways: individually, they each imagine that Nature, or Fate, or God, is behind their experiences, which allows them to blame some outside force for their struggle, and together, they form a bond of friendship that helps them keep their spirits up. .
In “Becoming Interpreters: The Importance of Tone in ‘The Open Boat,’” Gregory Schirmer states that “‘The Open Boat has at its center two quite different views of man: as a helpless and insignificant being adrift in a universe that is wholly indifferent to him and his ambitions, and on the other hand, as part of a brotherhood that binds man to man in the face of that indifferent universe” (222). The words “indifferent” or “indifference,” regarding the attitude of Nature, occur repeatedly in the important responses to “The Open Boat.” In fact, this is found in the story itself, where the correspondent thinks of Nature, that she “was indifferent, flatly indifferent” (Crane 215).
However, even describing Nature as “indifferent” means that the men in the boat think of Nature as having a personality. According to the writer Anthony Hilfer, in “Nature As Protagonist in ‘The Open Boat,’” this is because “they need an agent to blame” (249).
At the beginning of this story, this “blame” is placed on the sea itself. The ocean is described as having actual feelings. The wave...


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...n life is not in our control, that elemental powers must be reckoned with” (454). This conflict seems to be central to “The Open Boat” – and to life in general – that the world can be an unpredictable and sometimes dangerous place, and that while people are not able to control it, they at least have the ability to come together and help each other get by. When doing this, it is no use to blame some outside force, since that will not change anything. Instead, it is suggested that the best thing that people can do is to try to develop the “subtle brotherhood” that was shared by the men on the boat. It is not a guarantee of survival, since there can be no guarantees, but Crane seems to make the point that rather than try to find someone or something to blame when things go wrong, it is more useful for people to work together to make the best of any difficult situation.

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