Compare and contrast "The Open Boat" with The Awakening, with reference to self-determination and free-will.

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accessteacher | High School Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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Both of these novels show human beings to be without free will and unable to shape their destiny, though this is presented in different ways. In "The Open Boat," the might of nature shows man to be puny and infinitely fragile. The men left stranded in a boat have to face the fact that there is nothing that they can do to shape their destiny and to give them a better chance of survival. This is shown most clearly by the ending, while the correspondent, who is one of the weakest of the characters and who knows least about the sea, survives, whilst the oiler, who is much stronger than the other characters, dies:

In the shallows, face downward, lay the oiler. His forehead touched sand that was periodically, between each wave, clear of the sea.

The message of Crane is clear: man has no ability to shape his destiny, and, especially when faced with the much stronger power of nature, is left in a position of bobbing along in the ocean depending on nothing more than luck for survival.

In The Awakening, Chopin seems to offer a somewhat different message about free will vs. determinism. Although in some ways Edna could be viewed as a perfect example of free will, when the text is examined closer, she seems a curious victim of her whims and emotions that master her and overwhelm her. Note the following description of how the music of Chopin works upon her:

...the very passions themselves were aroused within her soul, swaying it, lashing it, as the waves daily beat upon her splendid body. She trembled, she was choking, and the tears blinded her.

The metaphor to the sea and its waves is no accident remembering how Edna ends her life. The image is one of complete overwhelming and abandonment as Edna is subject to the passions she experiences. Edna, throughout the novel shows that she is subject to her irrational whims and emotions rather than consciously making carefully reasoned choices to shape her own destiny. Therefore this novel again presents humans as being more subject to determinism than being able to make their own decisions, though this is in a different way from the way in which brute, overpowering nature is shown to operate in "The Open Boat."

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