The Open Boat

The Open Boat

Stephen Crane is considered one of the foremost American authors of the Realistic and

Naturalistic movements. Naturalistic writers were influenced by the evolution theory of

Charles Darwin They believed that one's heredity and social environment decide one's

character. Whereas realism seeks only to describe subjects as they really are, naturalism

also attempts to determine scientifically the underlying forces that affect a person’s


The Naturalists analyzed the omnipotent, natural forces that affected the person’s

“struggle for life.” These concerns are evident in “The Open Boat.” The fate of the four

men seems to rest mostly in the hands of forces beyond their control. A prime example of

this comes when the correspondent gets caught in a current while trying to swim to the

shore. He is trapped by an invisible force, an underwater current, which he can

neither understand nor escape. For unknown reasons, the current suddenly frees him and

he is washed ashore by a giant wave. Crane attributes the correspondent’s survival to the

uncontrollable forces of nature, not to his own efforts.

Crane also seems to depart from more naturalistic views because he does not assume

the existence of any distinct laws of nature. Nature, in the story, is unclear to man and

probably without ultimate meaning or purpose. In an ironic reversal of the

Darwinian rule of the “survival of the fittest,” the only member of the crew to perish in

the ordeal is the oiler, who had seemed the most physically fit to survive. While it is

easy to interpret the oiler’s death as a sacrifice , suggesting that he exhausted

himself rowing the boat for the others , it seems more in keeping with the theme of the

story that the oiler was simply unlucky. For Crane, nature is chaotic and takes no account

of human struggles. In another passage from the story, the correspondent imagines that a...

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