Determinism, Objectivity, and Pessimism in The Open Boat

Determinism, Objectivity, and Pessimism in The Open Boat

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Determinism, Objectivity, and Pessimism in The Open Boat

      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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Then the oiler took both oars; then the

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.
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