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“The Open Boat” (1897). Stephen Crane. Stephen Crane (1871-1900). Writer most famous for novel The Red Badge of Courage (1895), about a young man’s experience of Civil War From old American family (since 1600s); son of Methodist minister

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stephen crane 1871 1900
Stephen Crane (1871-1900)
  • Writer most famous for novel The Red Badge of Courage (1895), about a young man’s experience of Civil War
  • From old American family (since 1600s); son of Methodist minister
  • Early novel, Maggie, A Girl of the Streets (1893), set in slums of New York; also wrote short stories and poetry
  • After Red Badge, became correspondent in Cuban insurrection, 1897
stephen crane 1871 19001
Stephen Crane (1871-1900)
  • Jan. 1897: En route to Cuba, steamer The Commodore sank off Florida; Crane published newspaper account and later the short story “The Open Boat”
  • 1897: Settled in England with Cora Howard, who had been madam of a brothel in Florida. Became friend of writer Henry James
  • 1900: Died of tuberculosis in Badenweiler, Germany
nature vs civilization
Nature vs. Civilization
  • About the indifference of nature and the necessity for each person to confront that indifference independently (like London’s “To Build a Fire”)
  • About the ability of people to work together to make meaning (be civilized) despite nature’s indifference (unlike “To Build a Fire”)
  • “None of them knew the color of the sky. Their eyes glanced level, and were fastened upon the waves that swept toward them” (728)
  • In the wan light, the faces of the men must have been gray. Their eyes must have glinted in strange ways as they gazed steadily astern. Viewed from a balcony, the whole thing would doubtlessly have been weirdly picturesque. But the men in the boat had no time to see it (729)
simile metaphor
Simile & Metaphor
  • “Many a man ought to have a bath-tub larger than the boat which here rode upon the sea” (728)
  • “A seat in this boat was not unlike a seat upon a bucking broncho, and, by the same token, a broncho is not much smaller” (728)
  • Cook: “Wouldn't have a show” without on-shore wind (729)
  • “they now rode this wild colt of a dingey like circus men” (732)
  • Cook with arm around oiler’s shoulders: “they were the babes of the sea, a grotesque rendering of the old babes in the wood” (735)
  • Cook: fat; a talker: “Gawd!”; looks at sea (728)
    • Cheerful (730)
    • Irrelevant talk: “what kind of pie” (735)
  • Oiler: more physical, agile; a worker; quiet
    • Rows more than anyone else: “And the oiler rowed, and then the correspondent rowed. Then the oiler rowed” (733)
    • Focuses on work; sees least: “all but the oarsman watched the shore grow” (731)
  • Captain: “mind . . . rooted deep in the timbers” of sunken ship (728)
    • “impression of a scene” (7 faces—the 7 men who died)
    • Becomes the captain of the dingy—still commands respect
  • Correspondent: “wondered why he was there”: an outsider, a thinker (728)
    • based on Crane himself; the main center of consciousness”
    • “cynical of men” (730); sarcastic and cursing
  • See conversation at end of section 1 (729):
  •      "Houses of refuge don't have crews," said the correspondent. "As I understand them, they are only places where clothes and grub are stored for the benefit of shipwrecked people. They don't carry crews."
  •      "Oh, yes, they do," said the cook.
  •      "No, they don't," said the correspondent.
  •      "Well, we're not there yet, anyhow," said the oiler, in the stern.
language spare detached
Language: Spare & Detached
  • “They rowed and they rowed” (730)
  • “There was a sudden tightening of muscles. There was some thinking” (732)
  • “A conference was held in the boat” (738)
interpretation boat shore
Interpretation: Boat & Shore
  • Unbridgeable divide between the men and the shore: men in boat misinterpret the shore; people on shore misinterpret the men (732-34):
    • "Well, I wish I could make something out of those signals. What do you suppose he means?"
    • "He don't mean anything. He's just playing."
interpretation boat shore1
Interpretation: Boat & Shore
  • Men’s repeated reflection: “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?” (732)
interpretation men nature
Interpretation: Men & Nature
  • In contrast to Sylvia in Jewett’s “A White Heron,” the men here do not communicate well with nature:
    • “nature does not regard him as important” (736) (but waves are “important”)
    • Nature lacks “visible expression” or “personification” to communicate with (736):
      • Gull is an “Ugly brute” as if “made with a jack-knife” (730)
      • Shark is a “thing” (736)
interpretation men nature1
Interpretation: Men & Nature
  • The correspondent finds his own “visible expression” of nature in the “wind-tower”:
  • “This tower was a giant, standing with its back to the plight of the ants. It represented in a degree, to the correspondent, the serenity of nature amid the struggles of the individual -- nature in the wind, and nature in the vision of men. She did not seem cruel to him, nor beneficent, nor treacherous, nor wise. But she was indifferent, flatly indifferent” (738)
subtle brotherhood
“Subtle Brotherhood”
  • The men form a community despite nature’s indifference:
  • “It would be difficult to describe the subtle brotherhood of men that was here established on the seas. No one said that it was so. No one mentioned it. But it dwelt in the boat, and each man felt it warm him” (730)
subtle brotherhood1
“Subtle Brotherhood”
  • However, brotherhood has limits: each character must finally face his individual fate:
    • “The correspondent, observing the others, knew that they were not afraid, but the full meaning of their glances was shrouded” (738)
    • “Perhaps an individual must consider his own death to be the final phenomenon of nature” (739)
return to land characters
Return to Land: Characters
  • Oiler: swimming rapidly, “ahead in the race” (739)—characteristic: strength
  • Cook: swims on back—characteristic: size
  • Captain: holds onto boat—characteristic: control of boat
return to land characters1
Return to Land: Characters
  • Correspondent: “paddled leisurely”; contemplates shore—characteristic: thinking, perception
    • “The shore was set before him like a bit of scenery on a stage, and he looked at it and understood with his eyes each detail of it” (739)
  • Why does the oiler not survive?
    • Chance?
    • Too weak from his self-sacrifice?
    • Lack of perception, imagination?
  • Divide between sea and land is bridged
    • Land offers “all the remedies sacred to their minds”
    • Men hear “the great sea’s voice” and “they felt that they could then be interpreters” (740)