Analyze the tension between the individual and the environment in the story, "The Open Boat."Focus on any definition of “environment”: political, social, physical, or moral.

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amarang9 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

In Part VI of "The Open Boat," the correspondent (representing Crane) recalls a verse about a dying soldier in Algiers. Prior to this experience in the boat, he had just considered this in verse form. That is, he never fully comprehended this kind of suffering, this real human experience in a real place, until the ordeal in the boat. 

Now, however, it quaintly came to hims as a human, living thing. It was no longer merely a picture of a few throes in the breast of a poet, meanwhile drinking tea and warming his feet at the grate; it was an actuality--stern, mournful, and fine. 

The correspondent suddenly understands that this verse does not refer to itself as a verse, nor as the quaint scribblings of some poet in a romanticized setting by a fire. Rather, the verse reflects real human experience in a real place. Then the correspondent "sees" the soldier in Algiers and actually feels sympathy for the soldier. It took this experience in the boat for the correspondent to understand the human experience of place and suffering in the verse. This all came from the correspondent's battle with his own environment. 

An interesting thing about this story is that none of the men in the boat openly speak of the unsaid battle with nature. The narrator repeatedly notes that this internal struggle inside and between them all is simply understood. This gives the struggle a kind of universality to it, a dramatic example of the universal human contemplation of mortality. This is therefore a "natural" struggle, a struggle with nature. 

In Part VII, the correspondent begins to understand what nature ("she") really is: 

She did not seem cruel to him then, nor beneficent, nor treacherous, nor wise. But she was indifferent, flatly indifferent. It is, perhaps, plausible that a man in this situation, impressed with the unconcern of the universe, should see the innumerable flaws of his life and have them taste wickedly in his mind and wish for another chance. 

It is often said that when faced with death, one reevaluates his own life. Realizing that nature is unconcerned with a single individual, the correspondent considers his insignificance in the eyes of nature but also considers his significance to himself because he has a better understanding of nature and his life in it. The last line of the story shows that, because of their struggle against this seemingly indifferent environment, the men know something more about themselves and about nature, " . . . the wind brought the sound of the great sea's voice to the men on shore, and they felt that they could then be interpreters." 

This struggle against the environment can have metaphoric value when paired with other Realist or even Marxist texts. For example, a struggle against the indifference of nature could be paired with an economic struggle; a poor man's struggle against the silent, unseen forces (or "currents") wielded upon him by the wealthy, ruling class. In such a textual comparison, the poor man would have to confront those forces to the highest degree in order to fully understand them. 

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The Open Boat

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