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Open Boat Essay, Research Paper

Stephen Crane was a great writer who wrote many great stories about naturalism.

Naturalism is when characters in the story are controlled by the forces of nature. One of

Crane’s greatest writings on naturalism, is the short story, “The Open Boat.” In “The

Open Boat,” the theme of the story is that man has no control over his destinies and that

nature controls everything. Naturalist themes prevail in Stephen Crane’s, “The Open


Crane is one of the best naturalist writers and has great importance to his writtings.

Crane has given a better look as to how naturalism really works in everyday life. Crane’s

are written very descriptively to give a better understanding for the story. Stephen Crane

also wrot the, The Red Badge of Courage. Even though Stephen Crane never truly

experienced a battle or war he wrote, The Red Badge of Courage as if he has. Themes of

naturalism greatly prevail in Stephen Crane’s short story “The Open Boat.”

The first aspect in Stephen Crane’s, “The Open Boat,” is realism. In the story,

Crane as the correspondent has great significance in that the correspondent in the story is

based on Crane himself. The story is told through the correspondent’s point of view. The

story is somewhat based on one of Crane’s actual life experiences. In Crane’s Life and

Times, Crews states, ” The Open Boat is almost a factual account of Crane’s experience,

but is also a work of art whose place among the best American short stories is secure”

(125). With the story being told through the correspondent’s point of view the story gives

Crane an advantage to be very descriptive. In Stephen Crane’s: Naturalist and

Impressionist, Walcutt says, “Crane’s writings on naturalism are very descriptive to his

readers” (215).

Another important aspect of realism in, “The Open Boat,” is the location of the

story. The location in the story is significant because the group of four guys can all see

the lighthouse. Each and everyone of them has a general idea as to where their location.

The fact that they are close enough to land to see the lighthouse but not able to make it to

land was terribly frustrating. The sailors and the captain can at one point see, “many little

black cottages and a tall white windmill” (Hagemann 157). For the sailors to see all these

objects and only the waves preventing them from making it to land must have been greatly

dissapointing. Not only is realism an importamt aspect in, “The Open Boat,” but so is the

use of Crane’s literary devices.

One of the literary devices that Crane uses in his writings is personification.

Personification is the use of giving non human things human like characteristics. Crane

gives the waves human like characteristics in the story to get a point across about the

waves. In, “The Open Boat: A Work of Figurative Language and Imagery,” Claudon

writes that Crane gives the sea, animal characteristics when he says they, “growl and roar,

snarl and are wild.” This is stating that the waves as fierce as animals in the wild. Crane

also says, “The boat is a bronco and a wild colt which prances, rears, plunges and leaps.”

This is stating the motions that the waves are making and the motions that the sailors are

going through. Crane’s descriptive writing helps create a visual effect which goes along

with the story. Crane’s use of personification greatly helps to make his stories much more


Another type of literary device that Crane uses in his writings are symbols and

archetypes. Crane uses symbols and archetypes throughout the story to make it have a

great deal of meaning. There are many things throughout the story that are symbolic.

In,”The Open Boat: A Work of Figurative Language and Imagery,” Crane writes, “The

black shadow, which represents the gloom and hopelessness the sea offers to the men’s

situation,” (Claudon). In the overall picture the black shadow is constantly present to

remind the reader how hopeless their situation is. Another thing that is symbolic in the

story are the gulls. The gulls would usually represent a welcome sight to the sailors, but

instead the gulls stare at them with their black bead like eyes which brings discomfort to

the sailors. The gulls would normally be a sign that they are near land, in this case they

are near land but have no way of making it safely to it. Although literary devices are an

important factor in Crane’s writings so is the tone.

One of the main ideas of tone is Crane’s attitude towards nature. Crane felt that

nature could care less about who someone was. He felt that nature was unkind and

uncaring. Crane’s ideas about nature can be found in three places. “First they can be

found in his attitude toward received values. Second they can be found in his

impressionism and last in his obvious interest in a scientific or deterministic accounting for

events,” (Walcutt 215). Crane describes the sea as being deadly, dangerous, and

forbidding when Crane calls the sea, ” A monstrous knife and ominous” (Claudon). Along

with Crane’s attitude about nature, religion is also an important part of tone.

Religion in, “The Open Boat,” is referred to as the gods of nature that control

everything. Each of the certain gods of nature controls what occurs in the world. “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 seven mad gods who rule the sea, was I allowed to come thus far and

contemplate sand and trees” (Crane 591). Crane refers to the seven gods to each god who

controls one of the seven seas. Crane also writes about the overall god and how he is

unfair. The gods and god are part of the religion in the story. Tone in, “The Open Boat,”

is also an important part but so is the aspect of the indifference in nature.

The mood in the setting is an important factor of the indifference of nature. The

mood helps add to the story. Crane discusses the seas continuous change in mood. As

Crane talks about the sea it is first described as a, “black shadow.” Then Crane describes

the sea as, “the black waves, then the grey hues, and last as the white waves” (Claudon).

Each description describes the change in the seas mood. Throughout the story the seas

mood changes several times.

The next factor of the indifference of nature is the fact of man versus nature.

Throughout the story man is in a constant struggle against the forces of nature in order to

survive. “Crane describes the waves as towering walls to show the sea as an obstacle of

survival for the four men,” (Claudon). Crane also implies that the waves are against any

hopes of survival, when he says, “the waves are hostile and are hunting the men to show

the power and danger of the sea,” (Claudon). Man is in constant struggle with these killer

waves. There isn’t a point in the story when the men aren’t in a battle against the waves.

The last and most important factor of the indifference of nature is the irony. The

irony in,”The Open Boat,” is the same thing as fate. In the story the four men’s fate is that

they will either survive or they won’t survive. In Crane’s writings of naturalism he writes

that the men have their fate controlled by nature. In “Stephen Crane: Naturalist and

Impressionist,” Walcutt writes, “Crane has shown in his writings that naturalism controls

men’s destinies and not their wills,” (216). Crane is implying that nature controls

everything. The most obvious example that naturalism controls mens destinies and not

their wills is when the oiler dies. The oiler who is by far the strongest and most likely to

make it to the shore ends up dieing. The captain who is the weakest and injured and least

likely to survive makes it safely to shore.

Stephen Crane’s themes of naturalism in, “The Open Boat,” prevail strongly.

Crane’s writings are greatly based on naturalism. Crane’s belief is that everything is based

around naturalism. To Crane naturalism was something nobody was able to control or get

around. “The Open Boat,” is one of Crane’s best and most descriptive writings on

naturalism. “The Open Boat,” will continue to be a great story about naturalism for many

years to come. His stories about naturalism will continue to be studied by many people

for their lesson they teach about naturalism.

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