The Open Boat By: Stephen Crane
Characters • Oiler- young, virile man who is the only one given a name (Billy). Shown to be extraordinarily nice and the person who is expected to survive the ordeal. • Cook- fat, talkative man. Does not provide much in terms of physical help in the boat. When he does row, he gets the boat into trouble and must be helped by the oiler. • Captain- the only member of the group who is referred to as injured. Orders are always listened to. Exerts authority as well as trying to keep the hopes and spirits of the crew alive. Also dejected and indifferent about life due to the sinking of his ship. • Correspondent- could be considered the main character of the text. His thoughts and emotions are followed more than others. He is the outsider of the group and does not understand the camaraderie of the crew at the beginning of the text. Begins to understand as the story continues, but is also struck by the fierceness of nature and the fact that it does not care for humanities well being.
Point of View • Third person omniscient narrator (godlike)- allows the reader to understand the characters’ obsession with the sea and their changing emotions on the boat.
External Conflict • Man vs. Nature • Waves and ocean are constantly being held at bay. Have the ability to crush the men and their boat at any moment. The oiler and the correspondent spend most of the story trying to keep the boat out of the waves. • The sea is portrayed as another character and is a formidable adversary. • A shark (or multiple sharks) hovers around the boat, reminding the characters of the other dangers that the ocean presents.
Internal Conflict • The characters go through various stages of excitement and grief as the story goes along. • In Part I-III, they are almost cheerful about their impending rescue. There are discussions about who will rescue them and how soon it will come. • In Part IV, when the group spots someone on the shore, they begin to realize that no one is coming for them and the area of land they are close to is actually populated by tourists. Man on the shore continually waves at them, but does not understand their need for help. • Part V-VII- the group become despondent and exhausted. They realize that no one is going to come for them and that they must battle the elements of the sea themselves. Conflicted thoughts about how to survive the brutal ocean.
Irony- Verbal • The crew continually repeats the phrase “Funny they haven’t seen us.” • The characters do not want to tell themselves the real reason that no one is coming for them. Helps to explain Crane’s feelings about humanity and human nature. The characters want to believe that someone will come along and help them. • Narrator interrupts and contributes several examples of irony in his description of the sea. Wants the reader to understand the danger of the sea and show that the members of the boat may not be properly frightened of the ocean itself. • “It was probably splendid, it was probably glorious, this play of the free sea, wild with lights of emerald and white and amber.” • “… he would have tumbled comfortably out upon the ocean as if he felt sure that it was a great, soft mattress.”
Themes • Man’s frustration and rage at the unconcerned forces of nature • The awakening of the correspondent- his new realization about the value of life when surrounded by the awesome forces of nature and certain death. • Life is not “fair”- the man most deserving of life (Billy the oiler) is the only one of the crew not to survive. In fact, his kindness probably killed him (rowing to the point of exhaustion).