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In Stephen Crane’s story “The Open Boat,” a character called the correspondent struggles, along with several other men, to save his life by rowing a small boat in search of land after their ship has sunk. As they row, contemplating the possibility that they may not survive, the correspondent suddenly recalls some verses he heard often when he was a youth:
A soldier of the Legion lay dying in Algiers,
There was lack of woman's nursing, there was dearth of woman's tears;
But a comrade stood beside him, and he took that comrade's hand
And he said: "I shall never see my own, my native land."
When he was young, the correspondent never regarded the plight of the dying soldier as especially important. Now, however, his attitude has completely changed. Now, in his mind’s eye, the
correspondent plainly saw the soldier. He lay on the sand with his feet out straight and still. While his pale left hand was upon his chest in an attempt to thwart the going of his life, the blood came between his fingers. In the far Algerian distance, a city of low square forms was set against a sky that was faint with the last sunset hues. The correspondent, plying the oars and dreaming of the slow and slower movements of the lips of the soldier, was moved by a profound and perfectly impersonal comprehension. He was sorry for the soldier of the Legion who lay dying in Algiers.
Now that the correspondent himself is faced with the imminent prospect of death, he can both sympathize and empathize with the plight of the soldier of Algiers. Like the soldier, the correspondent himself lacks the tender help of any ministering woman. If the correspondent dies, he will die with his male companions. The correspondent must depend on the other men in the ship – his comrades – much as the soldier in Algiers was also left with male comradeship as his only hope and consolation. The soldier in Algiers had lamented that he would never again see his “native land” – that is, his country of origin. The correspondent, however, may never again see any land at all. He may die a death even worse than the soldier’s – a death with no burial, no grave, no spot on the earth where mourners can seek out his final resting place and pay their respects. If the correspondent dies, he will be swallowed up by the huge, vast sea, and so will his comrades as well. The soldier, at least, had a comrade to try to comfort him; the correspondent may die with his comrades in one quick watery disaster.
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