The Violence of Man and Nature
In Stephen Crane's The Open Boat and The Blue Hotel, violence is presented to the reader as one of several themes. The theme of violence stands out because it is prominent throughout these two works. The main focus of the nature of the violence seen in The Open Boat deals with the threat nature poses to humankind. Sprinkled among the episodes of natural violence, the reader is exposed to brief periods when the crew itself breaks out into violence. In The Blue Hotel we see the human aspect of violence; the way in which humans deal with each other.
In The Open Boat, nature is seen as the root cause of the crews' troubles. While the violence may not be intentional, it cannot be avoided. Our first encounter with this violence happens in the first paragraph. The crew is struggling against the sea trying to make it to shore. The waves met by the crew are described by Crane as being slate colored, foaming white, and with jagged edges thrust up like rocks. This description brings to mind images of a barrier blocking their escape.
The sea around them becomes their biggest enemy. They have no control over what is happening, the sea is too powerful. Being a passenger in the boat is likened to being a rider on a bucking bronco, a violent creature in it's own right. The boat rises and plunges like an animal over the white crested waves. With each wave that is conquered, another comes quickly behind it. Each wave seems to swallow the boat whole, but the crew fights back, and their plight continues.
The situation the crew faces eventually takes it toll on them. This not only becomes clear through their actions and their thoughts, but also through the descriptive words Crane uses. The crew begins to break out in petty arguments At one point in the story it appears that the crew may be saved. On the shoreline they see a man waving a piece of cloth at them. The crew thinks and hopes that he is signaling them that he will find help, but nothing comes of it. The man evidently takes the boat for fisherman and does nothing. The man didn't realize that the crew needed assistance. Nevertheless the crew becomes agitated. One member wanted to "sock him" just because "he seemed so damned cheerful." Later, the cook starts talking about food and asks the oiler what kind of pie he likes best. The cook meant no harm by his question, but it upset the other crew members who told him not to bring the subject up again.
The crew is also becoming despondent. Several times in the story we see this phrase repeated several times. "If I am going to be drowned-if I am going to be drowned-if I am going to be drowned, why in the name of the seven mad gods who rule the sea, was I allowed to come thus far and contemplate sand and trees." They know they are not the first to be in their situation, but from their perspective it is a whole different story. They have come so far and have gone through so much only to be beaten down again and again. Nature seems to be toying with them. If the sea is going to drown them, why doesn't it do it right away instead of making them suffer? At the end when they finally make it to shore, the death of the oiler is surprising and only adds to the violence in the story. Here we have the strongest member of the crew, drowned by the very thing he had almost conquered. The strong have died while the weak survived.
Crane's choice of words also lends to the dismal violent nature of the situation the crew is in. He describes the sky as being gray and colorless. We have the captain who is injured described as being buried in dejection and indifference. The waves become rocks and other obstacles in the path of the crew. The crew talks only when necessary and even when they do, it is depressing.
Not only are the elements and the sea causing the crew sorrow, we also see members of the animal kingdom playing a part. Making the first appearance is an ordinary...
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