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"The Open Boat" by Stephen Crane is a naturalistic story based upon Crane's own experience of being shipwrecked when he was a journalist. In this story, the view of nature is unromantic, and lacking in any sentiment. The emphasis, of course, is upon a struggle to survive, depicted with dark and unredemptive tones. Crane depicts the men on the boat as symbolic of human endurance against an indifferent universe.
Significantly,the story opens with the men totally engrossed in their private struggle:"None of them knew the colour of the sky." As they row, the correspondent pulls at one of the oars, watching the waves, and wondering how he has come to be there. In this small dinghy, the men are truly at the mercy of the sea that seems a force against them:
As each slaty wall of water approached, it shut all else from the view of the men in the boat, and it was not difficult to imagine that this particular wave was the final outburst of the ocean, the last effort of the grim water. There was a terrible grace in the move of the waves, and they came in silence, save for the snarling of the crests.
At the mercy of mere Chance, the men watch as a man waves a coat, but it blends into the gloom. The men in the boat "swear like men who were being branded" at their bad luck. Through their minds runs this collective refrain repeatedly as they try to make sense of their predicament:
"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? Was I brought her merely to have my nose dragged away as I was about to nibble the sacred cheese of life?"
The men's internal railing against nature denotes the absurb sense of importance that man imagines for himself against mindless Chance. This concept is symbolized by the appearance of the shark that swims around the boat as most of the men sleep and the correspondent feels that he alone realizes its danger. Indeed, it is an indifferent and mindless universe that allows the oiler, the best sailor of all, to drown as the others survive the experience. All of the men's struggles come down to their unified efforts and fortunate achievement--except for Billie--of reaching land without being attacked by the shark or overturned by the sea's waves. Yet, in their final heroic acts, the men absurdly feel that they can "interpret" what has happened.
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