"The Open Boat" is a statement of Crane's belief in naturalism, or a philosophical viewpoint that regards nature as being far more powerful than man. In fact, Crane shows in this story that man, in spite of all of his knowledge and achievements, is shown to be nothing more than insignificant and weak and puny in the face of nature. Even differences between humans such as strength and knowledge seem to have no relation to chances of survival in this story, as the final death of the oiler at the end of the short story demonstrates. The fact that the oiler, who was much stronger and much more experienced at sea than the correspondent, drowns during his attempts to make it to shore, supports the correspondent's impression that it was only luck that allowed him, or any of them to survive. Note the following quote from this short story that deals with the relationship between man and nature:
When it occurs to a man that nature does not regard him as important, and that she feels she would not maim the universe by disposing of him, he at first wishes to throw bricks at the temple, and he hates deeply the fact that there are no bricks and no temples.
It is nature, or the environment, that is shown in this short story to have an incredibly powerful impact on individual lives, more afflicting than affecting them. The way in which this quote exposes the unimportance of man and his insignificance reveals the power of the environment, and how genetics as a force cannot really compare.