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Literary Analysis

By | March 2011
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Literary Analysis of Stephen Crane’s “The Open Boat”
In “The Open Boat,” Stephen Crane displays the actions and emotions of four men facing death out at sea. Like nearly all of Stephen Crane’s work, it exists in a world that is incapable of presenting meaningfulness or even organization. Through the hard work the men do what they need to stay alive in the dinghy though they repeatedly find false hints of rescue. In the little boat, there are no truths and there is nothing to definitely know. In resolution, toil and suffering for survival is not rewarded. Only Billie, the most noble and hardest-working man does not survive in the rush to the shore. Through the overt symbolism of the story, on the natural setting of the sea, Crane demonstrates man’s conflict with an indifferent, disordered nature that is not concerned with humanity’s desires or the quality of their actions. Because of this conflict, the men believe they attain a greater understanding of existence.

As the story begins, the men do not know the significance of their lives, only that they must work in the boat to stay alive. The first sentence begins with, “None of them knew the color of the sky.” However, “all the men knew the color of the sea.” Continuously as they look for a way to get safely to shore, there are mistakes and confusion. Chester L. Wolford writes: “Not only is the color of the sky unknown, and the horizon always shifting, but the men interpret and misinterpret things constantly. Now the ‘rescue station’ must be here, then there; now the life-saving station is further north or it is not; now the station is manned or it is not. The lights they see at night come from this town or that town…. They know nothing” And in the end, their effort to get to shore is done independently. Wolford further states: “These constant shiftings of seeming to know are symbolic of all knowledge. Ultimately, all that matters is the individual consciousness.” The man on the beach who waves his coat at the...
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