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With his story, "An Open Boat," Naturalist Stephen Crane depicts the men on the boat as symbolic of the heroism of human endurance against an indifferent universe. His opening sentence, "None of them knew the colour of the sky," indicates the lack of involvement of nature with man. Crane describes the seat in this boat as not dissimilar to a bucking broncho, "The craft pranced and reared and plunged like an animal." As the men continue their struggle to find shore, they try to make sense of their situation; one wonders why he has been allowed to come so far on the sea if he is just to be drowned; another, a fatalist, feels it is the intention of the seven mad gods to drown him despite the "abominable injustice of it." This passage suggests the absurdity of an individual’s sense of self-importance against the mindless power of nature.
There is no connection, positive or negative, of nature with these men. That there is an indifference to nature is evinced in Crane's use of adjectives. For instance, the wall of water is "slaty," the water "grim," and there is a "little grey shadow on the sky" and "the shore grew dusky." Further, when the oiler, Billie, dies, rather than someone who does not know the sea, it is apparent that the universe is truly uninvolved and unconcerned:
In the shallows, face downward, lay the oiler. His forehead touched sand that was periodically, between each wave, clear of the sea.
When night falls after the men arrive on a shore, they feel they can now be "interpreters"; however, their act is betrayed by the language that they must use in this interpretation because each man is required to give a purely subjective meaning to the sea that in the end is unconcerned and "indifferent, flatly indifferent."
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