In his short story, “The Open Boat,” Stephen Crane shows how an inanimate object can be very unconcerned with whether you live or die. In this case, it is an ocean, which man has to struggle to survive. The characters in the story come face to face with this natural disaster and nearly overcome by Nature’s lack of concern. They survive only through persistence and cooperation. Crane shows the reader how not to give up when something so uncontrollable is present. Crane shows how unforgiving the sea can actually be by incorporating sharks, a flock of birds, and recollection of their childhood.
The story opens with four men, the captain, the oiler, the correspondent, and the cook, stranded in the ocean in a small boat. Crane’s descriptions in these opening scenes show right away the struggles the men face while trying to stay alive while the sea rips them apart. The men are in a desperate situation, but nature continues its ways regardless of what might happen to them. The sun continues to rise and set everyday. The shore is “lonely and indifferent.” They are even regarded by a shark: “There was a long, loud swishing astern of the boat, and a gleaming trail of phosphorescence, like a blue flame, was furrowed on the black waters. It might have been made by a monstrous knife.” (352 Crane) The men try every thing to get to shore but the waves keep pushing them out. This is however, just normal activity of nature, not any act of aggression against man.
“The birds sat comfortably in groups, and they were envied by some in the dinghy, for the wrath of the sea was no more to them than it was to a covey of prairie chickens a thousand miles inland.” (342 Crane) The birds in the story symbolize how in control nature truly is. They cannot but watch as birds fly so close that they can see the black of each other’s eyes. The birds play an important role in testing the men emotionally. If the men can remain calm as an animal that normally would not be problem if they were not in the middle of the ocean, but they have become mere helpless objects floating aimlessly on the ocean.
The correspondent, recalling a childhood verse, feels sympathy for a dying soldier, one who does not even exist: “The correspondent, plying the oars and dreaming of the slow and slower movements of the lips of the soldier, was moved by a profound and perfectly impersonal comprehension. He was sorry for the soldier of the Legion who lay dying in Algiers.” (353 Crane) Being in his current situation, the correspondent can finally understand the true meaning of the dying soldier.
He knows what it is like to be alone in a cruel world, and more importantly, he realizes he does not have to be alone. “It was no longer merely a picture of a few throes in the breast of a poet, meanwhile drinking tea and warming his feet at the grate; it was an actuality–stern, mournful, and fine.” (353 Crane) He can relate to this soldier that he simply knew in a poem, but can now see how if they never return from sea, he will not die in his homeland, but in an uncanny world.
Crane writes a story that makes the reader think about why all these things are happening and the different outcomes that can occur. In the end, the four men decide to swim for shore because they have agreed that they cannot get any closer to shore: “Now boys, the next one will do for us sure. Mind to jump clear of the boat.” (356 Crane) All but one of the men made it to shore.