The struggle for survival by mankind can be found in many different settings. It can be seen on a battlefield, a hospital room or at sea as related in “The Open Boat”, written in 1897 by Stephen Crane. The story is based on his actual experiences when he survived the sinking of the SS Commodore off the coast of Florida in early 1897. “The Open Boat” is Stephen Crane’s account of life and death at sea told through the use of themes and devices to emphasize the indifference of nature to man’s struggles and the development of mankind’s compassion.
The story’s theme is related to the reader by the use of color imagery, cynicism, human brotherhood, and the terrible beauty and savagery of nature. The symbols used to impart this theme to the reader and range from the obvious to the subtle. The obvious symbols include the time from the sinking to arrival on shore as a voyage of self-discovery, the four survivors in the dinghy as a microcosm of society, the shark as nature’s random destroyer of life, the sky personified as mysterious and unfathomable and the sea as mundane and easily comprehended by humans. The more subtle symbols include the cigars as representative of the crew and survivors, the oiler as the required sacrifice to nature’s indifference, and the dying legionnaire as an example of how to face death for the correspondent.
The opening paragraph of the story emphasizes the limitations of the individual’s vision of nature. From the beginning, the four characters in the dingy do not know “the colors of the sky,” but all of them know “the colors of the sea.” This opening strongly suggests the symbolic situations in which average peo...
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...and an equally indifferent relationship between humans. These styles are blended in the story by Crane’s varied role of Nature and humans throughout the story and the use of symbols and different imagery.
The theme of this story is actually stated in the story if it is read carefully and Crane reinforces it innumerable times. The theme of the story is man’s role in nature and is related to the reader through the use of color imagery, cynicism, human brotherhood, and the terrible beauty and savagery of nature. The story presents the idea that every human faces a voyage throughout life and must transition from ignorance to comprehension of mankind’s place in the universe and among other humans.
Crane, Stephen. “The Open Boat.” Norton Anthology of American Literature. Ed. Nina Baym. 6th ed. Vol. C. New York: Norton, 2003.
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