Essay on “The Open Boat”

In the span of your life time, you will certainly be sure to encounter some struggle against nature. Your struggle may be as little as trying to change a tire in the middle of a rain storm or as severe as expressed in Stephen Crane’s story The Open Boat.

From the beginning of time man has pondered the question as to “Why was I placed here on Earth?” We tend to see ourselves as being important, that we have to leave our mark in order for life to have some sort of meaning.

In this story, four men, known simply as the captain, the oiler, the correspondent, and the cook, become stranded in the sea in a small boat. Together they are forced to bare the torments of one of Mother Nature’s toughest challenges, the open sea. In this process these four men learn much about nature and just how little they are on Earth. One of the characters, the correspondent, comes to the realization that nature is indifferent despite the struggles of the individuals, “When it occurs to a man that nature does not regard him as important, and that she feels she would not maim the universe by disposing of him…” (para, 174). The captain, who is seen as a symbol of strength to the other men on the boat, has doubt as to whether they can make it to shore safely, “Then the captain, in the bow, chuckled in a way that expressed humor, contempt, tragedy, all in one. “Do you think we’ve got much of a show now, boys?” (para, 25). The men in the boat are still upset with what fate has dealt them and seem to have the same opinion that they are still in control of their outcome, “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? Was I brought here merely to have my nose dragged away as I was about to nibble the sacred cheese of life?” (para,142). The men are in a desperate situation, but nature continues to go on as if they were not there. This unsubstantial state is evident in the story when a shark swimming next to them doesn’t even take notice of their existence (para, 169). All four men in the boat are searching for some sort of miracle to happen, but neither nature nor fate sends anything their way. All they have to comfort themselves is each other.

Throughout the story the men in the boat are working together for a common purpose, to get to the shore. The correspondent remembers a verse about a soldier of the Legion dying in Algiers (para, 178), and realizes that he and the other men in the boat are like the soldier, alone and they only have each other to get through their crisis. These men must work together to form a unity amongst each other, if they are to survive what fate has given them. This comradeship is evident throughout the story by the men sharing the chore of rowing the boat, “The correspondent wondered ingenuously how in the name of all that was sane could there be people who thought it amusing to row a boat” (para, 50). When the men of the boat came to the realization that they may parish, the will to live was stronger than what nature or fate had in store for them (para, 70). At this instance is when the men seem to come together, and through their companionship, they have the ability to make it through any obstacle fate or nature puts in front of them.

At the conclusion of the story, the survivors in the boat feel they understand natures language, “When it came night, the white waves paced to and fro in the moonlight, and the wind brought the sound of the great sea’s voice to the men on the shore, and they felt that they could then be interpreters.”, (para, 235). When I read this I remember a saying my grandmother use to say, “When life gives you sour lemons, make lemonade.” This is true but it would be better if shared with another. In the end, no matter what life gives you, you always have your fellow man to share your experiences.