Naturalism Presented in "The Open Boat"

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Naturalism Presented in The Open Boat

Naturalistic writers tend to write in a somewhat scientific method because their characters are placed in a situation where the forces of nature or the environment are imposed upon them. The characters are then observed to see how they handle the challenge. Stephen Crane's "The Open Boat" follows this pattern of writing. The reader is allowed to observe as the four characters fight against the natural elements to survive. The different forces of nature applied to the characters of "The Open Boat" by Stephan Crane, are encountered by all human beings in life. The survival of whatever nature or any force beyond our control is the goal of all people. Life is not easy, but by enduring the trials of life, human capabilities are oftentimes proved to be far greater than ever expected. Crane's crew includes the cook, the oiler, the correspondent, and the captain- all on a boat that "a man ought to have a bath tub larger than". As the men fight the crest of each wave they encounter, it is obvious that this is a desperate situation. Showing their powerlessness the narrator describes a group of birds as sitting "…comfortably in groups, and they were envied by some in the dinghy, for the wrath of the sea was no more to them than it was to a covey of prairie chickens a thousand miles inland". Even though the men are in grave danger, the sun rises and sets and a shark even swims by but seems to have no need for the men in the boat. The men even believe that the waves are harsh on them and want to capsize the boat. The narrator explains that "[the waves were] nervously anxious to do something effective in the way of swamping boats". Even though it is obvious that the ocean always has waves, it is hard for the men to understand that they are merely caught in the wrong place at the wrong time. Although the men are experiencing the ocean as it always is, they still seem to believe that nature has some sort of decision to make about their survival. The men believe that it would be "an abominable injustice to drown a man who had worked so hard, so hard [to survive]. The man felt it would be a crime most unnatural. Other people had drowned at sea since galleys swarmed with painted sails, but still". Here Crane is pointing out the reality that these men are victims of circumstance, and if they survive it will be chance rather than fate. Continuing, the narrator says, "When it occurs to a man that nature does not regard him as important, and that she feels she would not maim the universe by disposing of him, he at first wishes to throw bricks at the temple, and he hates deeply the fact that there are no bricks and no temples". Clearly the realization that nature was indifferent to the sailor's outcome challenges the idea that nature has anything to do with the fate or spirituality of man. The quote also refers to the irrelevance of religion at this moment in the men's lives. Religion will not save them and is unable to be held accountable for their potential deaths. It points out the inherent flaws within these two systems of thought and the reality that death is perhaps more a moment of chance than of destiny. As the correspondent has a moment of truth when he sees the tower in the distance, he realizes that no one is there to save the men. The tower "represented in a degree, to the correspondent, the serenity of nature amid the struggles of the individual- nature in the wind, and nature in the vision of men". At this point he has an epiphany; the men are in a struggle all their own, fighting their personal survival rather than an indifferent nature. Each of the characters represents a view of society. The cook represents those in society who do bare minimum to survive. While on the ship, the cook fulfills his responsibilities but once out to sea or out of his normal environment, he does not function except to do the bare minimum that he is forced to do to survive. The cook's unresponsiveness to the...
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