The Power of Nature Revealed in The Open Boat In 1894, Stephen Crane said, “A man said to the universe: ‘Sir, I exist!’ ‘However,’ replied the universe, ‘The fact has not created in me a sense of obligation.'” This short encounter of man and nature is representative of Crane’s view of nature. However, he did not always see nature as indifferent to man. In 1887, he survived a shipwreck with two other men. “The Open Boat” is his account from an outsider’s point of view of the two days spent in a dinghy. Crane pays special attention to the correspondent, who shares the chore of rowing with the oiler. While rowing, he contemplates his situation and the part that nature plays in it. Mainly through the correspondent’s reflection, Crane shows the power that nature and experience have in expanding people’s ignorant opinions of the world around them.
In the beginning, the four men in the boat view nature as evil and unjust. Crane portrays this through the men’s reactions to the waves and the seagulls. They describe the waves as “most wrongfully and barbarously abrupt and tall” (245). Later in their journey, the correspondent notices “the tall black waves that [sweep] forward in a most sinister silence, save for an occasional subdued growl of a crest” (254). Each of these examples show that the men in the boat feel that nature is out to get him. The waves are seen as a living enemy force. The men also view the seagulls as threatening. They hover around the boat and when they finally fly away, the men feel relieved. In a critique of “The Open Boat”, Donald Gibson explains that “as observers we know the sea is in fact not hostile, that the sea gulls are not actually gruesome and ominous. But the men in the boat have this to lea…
…cult situation, such as a shipwreck, enables us to comprehend the world around us. Thus, a story such as this can only be written after the fact. At the beginning of the story, Crane tells us that the men did not even know the color of the sky. However, after the correspondent recognizes nature’s complexity, he begins to see the world differently. His observations of the sea and sky become more detailed. Only after two days on a dinghy could the men listen to “the sound of the great sea’s voice” and feel “that they could…be interpreters” (Crane 261).
Crane, Stephen. “The Open Boat.” Discovering Literature: Stories, Poems, Plays. Ed. Hans P. Guth and Gabriele L. Rico. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice Hall, 1997. 245-261.
Gibson, Donald B. The Fiction of Stephen Crane. Carbondale, IL: Southern Illinois University Press, 1968. 128-133.