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In Stephen Crane's short story "The Open Boat", the American
literary school of naturalism is used and three of the eight features are
most apparent, making this work, in my opinion, a good example of the
school of naturalism. These three of the eight features are determinism,
objectivity, and pessimism. They show, some more than others, how Stephen
Crane viewed the world and the environment around him.
Determinism is of course the most obvious of the three features.
Throughout the entire story, the reader gets a sense that the fate of the
four main characters, the cook, the oiler, the correspondent, and the
captain are totally pre-determined by nature and that they were not their
own moral agents. "The little boat, lifted by each towering sea and
splashed viciously by the crests, made progress that in the absence of
seaweed was not apparent to those in her." The characters had no control
over their boat, rather nature was totally in control. "She seemed just a
wee thing wallowing, miraculously top up, at the mercy of the five oceans.
Occasionally a great spread of water, like white flames, swarmed into her."
(pg.145) There is also a sense that man is totally not important to the
natural forces controlling his fate. "When it occurs to man that nature
does not regard him as important, and that she feels she would not maim the
universe by disposing of him, he at first wishes to throw bricks at the
temple, and he hates deeply that there are no bricks and no temples."
(pg156) The one character who perishes, the oiler, is of course a victim of
determinism. Even as he was so close to land and no longer out in the open
sea, nature still takes its role in determining his fate.
Objectivity refers to how the author describes reality as it exists,
that is, not glorifying something, but rather simply stating the
observation. The fact that the narrator is the correspondent in itself give
an impression on how the story is going to be told in a more journalistic
sense, describing actual events instead of feelings or ideas. " In the
meantime the oiler and the correspondent rowed. They sat together in the
same seat, and each rowed an oar.
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"Determinism, Objectivity, and Pessimism in The Open Boat." 123HelpMe.com. 17 Nov 2019
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correspondent took both oars; then the oiler; then the correspondent. They
rowed and they rowed." (pg144) Writing something repeatedly in the manner
Crane does in this passage gives the reader a sense of the repetitiveness
and frustration the four main characters faced being lost out at sea.
Pessimism, in my opinion, is apparent throughout the entire story.
Although the four men do have the will to survive, it always seems as if
nature is always playing the most important role. " If I am going to be
drowned--if I am going to be drowned--if I am going to be drowned, why in
the name of the seven mad gods who rule the sea, was I allowed to come thus
far and contemplate sand and trees." This passage is said not once, but
twice in the short story, strengthening the fact that a sense of pessimism
is present throughout the story while also expressing the anger the
characters feel toward the ever present fate of nature.
The entire story in itself is a portrayal not of the conflict
between man and nature, but rather the effect and control nature has on
human fate, strengthening the naturalistic ideas and views through this
tale of four stranded men. The fact that the waves, the tides, the
freezing water and all the other characteristics of the controlling force
are ever present, make, in my opinion, the sea the most important character
in "The Open Boat", the four men are just the way in which this is brought
through to the reader.
Works Cited and Consulted
Crane, Stephen. "The Open Boat." The University of Virginia Edition of the Works of Stephen Crane: Volume V, Tales of Adventure. Ed. Fredson Bowers. Charlottesville: UP of Virginia, 1970.
Gerstenberger, Donna. "'The Open Boat': An Additional Perspective." Modern Fiction Studies 17 (1971-72):557-561.