The Open Boat Symbolism

982 Words4 Pages
A boat no bigger than a bathtub; the danger and uncertainty of a powerful, unrelenting sea; and four men who have nothing but each other to rely on in their quest for survival. This sounds like the plot of a thrilling, dramatic tale – and it is – but Stephen Crane’s “The Open Boat” is more than that: it is a retelling of Crane’s own brush with death and a stark consideration of the meaning of life. Stephen Crane was the youngest of fourteen children born to Johnathan and Mary Helen Crane. His life – although typical of the time – is marked by loss: his father died in 1880 when Stephen was only nine years old, and seven of his siblings had died by 1892. Stephen came close to death himself, while reporting on the Cuban Revolution in 1897, the…show more content…
At first, it seems as if the ocean and its inhabitants are the men’s foes, threatening and sabotaging their chances of survival. Birds – described as “sinister”– fly about the boat and one even darts around the captain’s head which causes him to worry that the dinghy will capsize if he shoos it away. Crane writes that the men find the birds to be “…gruesome and ominous” (422.) Later, a shark begins to follow the boat, cutting through the water like a “monstrous knife” (424.) Throughout the story, Crane writes about the sea itself as if it were an angry, deliberate entity with waves that “snarl” and “hiss” (Presentation: Major Themes in The Open Boat.) One would think these forces were working together to thwart the men’s successful return to shore; as time goes on, however, the men realize how utterly indifferent nature is to them and their plight. The birds fly away, the shark grows “bored” with following them, and the once “monstrous” waves no longer frighten the men in the same way (426.) The men come to understand that mother nature – and her seas, and birds, and sharks – is not an active participant in their struggle, but rather a force that will continue on irrespective of the goings on around
Open Document