At the beginning, the characters are described collectively. Is the ending of the story a return to the collective form of the beginning? Example?At the beginning of “The Open Boat,” the...

At the beginning, the characters are described collectively. Is the ending of the story a return to the collective form of the beginning? Example?

At the beginning of “The Open Boat,” the characters are described collectively: “None of them knew the color of the sky. Their eyes glanced level, and were fastened on the waves that swept toward them.” Subsequently, the reactions of the individual characters are reported. Section VI is dominated by the ruminations of the correspondent. Give an example from the story.

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sciftw eNotes educator| Certified Educator

I'll answer the first question that is listed. Yes, I think the end of the story is a return to the collective; however, the narration at times returns to the collective throughout many other parts of the story. For example, readers get the following bit near the end of part 3.

Their backbones had become thoroughly used to balancing in the boat, and they now rode this wild colt of a dinghy like circus men. . . Everybody took a drink of water.

The narrator does take time to narrate about each individual and his individual struggles, but those struggles impact all four men in the boat. They are a tactical unit working for the survival of the group, so it makes sense that Crane would remind his readers about the group.

The opening paragraph does indeed focus on the men and "them." Readers don't get any individual descriptions in this paragraph. It is focused on the group. The final two paragraphs return to this form as well.

When it came night, the white waves paced to and fro in the moonlight, and 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.

Unfortunately, the return to the group is highlighted by the fact that the group is not the same group that started the story. The men have been changed by their harrowing time on the water; however, it is painfully obvious to them and readers that the group is also different on a very concrete level. One quarter of the group is no longer alive. Nature takes the oiler's life despite the group's struggle, and that is a point that Crane is very good at driving home to readers as a naturalist author. Nature doesn't care how hard humans fight for survival and to be known by the universe. Nature is unrelenting and uncaring about the state of man, and the group is attacked on all fronts until the group is broken.

She did not seem cruel to him, nor beneficent, nor treacherous, nor wise. But she was indifferent, flatly indifferent.

favoritethings eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The last part of the story is dominated by the correspondent's thoughts and feelings about what is happening to him and around him. For example, he sees a man running toward the water, stripping off his clothes as he goes, evidently to help rescue the four men in the water. First, this man drags the cook ashore, then moves toward the captain (who waves him away and toward the correspondent), and then finally toward the correspondent, who seems to see "a halo . . . about his head, and he shone like a saint." Once the man makes sure that the correspondent is safe, they spot the oiler's body in the shallows, and the "haloed" man runs toward him.

Separated by the currents and the waves, each man was on his own, and there is no rhyme or reason as to why the oiler perishes while the others survive. His fate is simply the result of an unbiased and harsh world. The correspondent's perception of the man running to assist them illuminates the theme that it is only the help of our fellows that enables us to make meaning in our lives and find purpose in the world. There is no higher power watching out for us, so we must watch out for one another, and this is how we become holy: by helping and taking care of one another.

bmadnick eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Yes, you're absolutely right! At the end of the story, the three men who have survived stand on the shore, listening to the waves, "and they felt they could then be interpreters." Crane's use of starting and ending his story with the men as a collective group shows what lesson the men have learned as a result of their ordeal. In the beginning, the men see their situation as ridiculous. As they face the possibility of death, the men separate into their own thoughts and feelings. At the end, the survivors are brought back together as a cohesive group, brothers in a sense. They have fought against the forces of nature, realized how insignificant men are in relation to the universe, and they have now learned that only by sticking together can man hope to survive the forces that are beyond their control. The group at the end of the story is very different from the group of men at the beginning. In the end, the men are wiser, knowing that life is tenuous.

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The Open Boat

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