The world of Stephen Crane's fiction is a cruel, lonely place. Man's environment shows no sympathy or concern for man; in the midst of a battle in The Red Badge of Courage "Nature had gone tranquilly on with her golden process in the midst of so much devilment" (89). Crane frequently anthropomorphizes the natural world and turns it into an agent actively working against the survival of man. From the beginning of "The Open Boat" the waves are seen as "wrongfully and barbarously abrupt and tall" (225) as if the waves themselves had murderous intent. During battle in The Red Badge of Courage the trees of the forest stretched out before Henry and "forbade him to pass. After its previous hostility this new resistance of the forest filled him with a fine bitterness" (104). More omnipresent than the mortal sense of opposition to nature, however, is the mortal sense of opposition to other men. Crane portrays the Darwinian struggle of men as forcing one man against another, not only for the preservation of one's life, but also the preservation of one's sense of self-worth. Henry finds hope for escape from this condition in the traditional notion that "man becomes another thing in a battle"‹more selfless and connected to his comrades (73). But the few moments in Crane's stories where individuals rise above self-preservation are not the typically heroicized moments of battle. Crane revises the sense of the heroic by allowing selfishness to persist through battle. Only when his characters are faced with the absolute helplessness of another human do they rise above themselves. In these grim situations the characters are reminded of their more fundamental opp...
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