“The Open Boat” is a tale of four characters Billie the Oilier and three anonymous characters; the correspondent, the captain and the cook. Stephen Crane reiterates his existentialist take on life by using his characters as his mouthpiece. …
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Crane’s story provides the readers with a perfect blend of human suffering, their various behaviors and natures as well as the desolation that surrounds human beings. Although the dialect is simple and smooth flowing yet he captures essence of meaning and gives a close observation of the brutalities of the Mother Nature and human suffering. As Turchi and Baxter also states, ““The Open Boat” insists on moral truths. They are confounding moral truths and many readers will be frustrated that the wisdom of the work cannot be distilled, the themes stated plainly”. Some of the major thematic concerns that Stephen Crane incorporates in the story includeshuman bonding and relations,Man vs. Nature, unavailability of God and communication gaps.
A common theme that recurs in most of Crane’s works is human bonding or relationships. It appears that the writer believes that in this world an individual cannot survive on his own as this world is an unfriendly place and human beings require some sort of weapon against the brutalities of nature and that weapon is an individual’s bonding with his fellow beings. This theme is excessively apparent from not only the setting of the story but also from the gradual plot progression. Crane creates a microcosm of mankind on the dinghy. Although initially the four survivors had nothing in common and there is a certain awkwardness that is observed amongst their behaviors yet it is observed that when they realize the unpredictability and the helplessness of their dire situation they form an unannounced brotherhood to survive the brutalities of Mother Nature. As it is also stated in the text as well, It would be difficult to describe the subtle brotherhood of men that was here established on the seas.... there was this comradeship that the correspondent, for instance, who had been taught to be cynical of men, knew even at the time was the best experience of his life (61). Dersch effectively encapsulates the situation of these characters by quoting Ross Muffin’s words when he says, “‘the characters are determined by forces beyond their control’ humans are presented as ‘higher-order animals fully subject to the forces of heredity and environment and life in general is an inescapable trap’” (4). Hence the characters find solace in one another and even though earlier they had communication barriers yet they overcome them and act as one another’s support and right hand in the hour of need. For example it is clear from the manner in which the captain, the cook, Billie and correspondent take turns at rowing the boat. Then again when the correspondent is up alone and he say his desire for someone else to be awake and find solace in another individual’s company is a proof that Crane believes that human bonding is essential for survival. Communication gap that engulfs human race is another important thematic concern that Crane reiterates in the story to further highlight the disjunct and chaos that surround human beings. The fact that the people on the shore believed the people on dinghy were mere fishermen and the hope in the four survivors that they will be rescued yet their constant observation saying that, “Funny they don’t see us” (Crane 64) creates an ironic situation. It is as if human beings exist in their individual bubbles where they tend to keep to themselves. However when finally they do realize that their fellow beings are in need they do stand up to help one another. This theme further stresses the lonely existence of man in this
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Week-Long Thematic Unit.
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