Relationship between the Individual and Nature in The Open Boat

Relationship between the Individual and Nature in The Open Boat

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Relationship between the Individual and Nature in "The Open Boat"        


From the beginning, the four characters in the aftermath of a shipwreck do not know "the colour of the sky" but all of them know "the colours of the sea."  This opening strongly suggests the symbolic situations in which human beings are located in the universe.  The sky personifies the mysterious, inconceivable cause of reality , which humans cannot understand, and the sea symbolizes the earthy, mundane phenomenon, which humans are supposed to perceive.  The symbolic picture generated by the above conflict implies the overall relationship between the individual and nature.   In fact, the daily life of human beings is at the mercy of the uncontrollable waves of the sea; while, at the same time, the essential part of reality remains unknown to feeble, helpless humans.

The human voyage into life is basically feeble, vulnerable, uncontrollable.  Since the crew on a dangerous sea without hope are depicted as "the babes of the sea", it can be inferred that we are likely to be ignorant strangers in the universe.  In addition to the danger we face, we have to also overcome the new challenges of the waves in the daily life.  These waves are "most wrongfully and barbarously abrupt and tall", requiring "a new leap, and a leap."  Therefore, the incessant troubles arising from human conditions often bring about unpredictable crises as "shipwrecks are apropos of nothing."  The tiny "open boat", which characters desperately cling to, signifies the weak, helpless, and vulnerable conditions of human life since it is deprived of other protection due to the shipwreck.  The "open boat" also accentuates the "open suggestion of hopelessness" amid the wild waves of life.  The crew of the boat perceive their precarious fate as "preposterous" and "absurd" so much so that they can feel the "tragic" aspect and "coldness of the water."   At this point, the question of why they are forced to be "dragged away" and to "nibble the sacred cheese of life" raises a meaningful issue over life itself.  This pessimistic view of life reflects the helpless human condition as well as the limitation of human life.

In line with the feeble and vulnerable portrait of human beings, nature is described as dangerous and uncontrollable on the one hand; beautiful on the other.  The tone of the waves is "thunderous and mighty" and the gulls are looked upon as "uncanny and sinister.

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"  Furthermore, the crew fear the upcoming danger of the sea, blaming it as the "play of the free sea."  Meanwhile, many beautiful colours such as "emerald green", "carmine", and "gold" decorate the sea, another name of nature.  What matters here is that the crew's attention focuses not on the beauty of nature but on the danger they face.  In other words, people are likely to interpret natural phenomenon based on their prejudices, thus distorting the features of nature as preposterous."

Against this backdrop, the relationship between humankind and nature is revealed as "the serenity of nature amid the struggle of the individual."  As shown above, nature is "indifferent, flatly indifferent" to human beings.  Thus "the unconcern of the universe" can be explained as a major characteristic of nature.  The relation of nature to the individual is substantially independent and disconnected unlike humankind's expectation that the two are closely related to each other.
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