How does the protagonist see himself through the eyes of others?"The Open Boat" by Stephen Crane

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mwestwood eNotes educator| Certified Educator

In Stephen Crane's "The Open Boat," the correspondent is the initiate, the only one of the four men who is not part of the crew of the damaged ship.  Yet, the captain addresses him with the others as "boys" although at first the cook and the correspondent have argued about the difference between a life-saving station and a house of refuge.  But, as the correspondent shares the job of rowing with others--"They sat together in the same seat"--he joins a certain brotherhood, a brotherhood of those who struggles in the face of an indifferent nature. 

It would be difficult to describe the subtle brotherhood of men that was here established on the seas. No one said that it was so.  No one mentioned it.  But it dwelt in the boat, and each man felt it warm him....It was more than a mere recognition of what was best for the common safety.  There was surely in it a quality that was personal and heart-felt.  And after this devotion to the command of the boat, there was this coradeship, that the correspondent, for instance, who had been taught to be cynical of men, knew even at the time was the best experience of his life. But no one said that it was so.  No one mentioned it.

That he is more and more part of this brotherhood as the narrative progresses is evinced in the description of the captain's speaking to the men as though "soothing his children" and reassuring them "we'll get ashore all right."  Ironically, the experiential stress of their situation is what effects this fellowship and sympathy among them.

It is in Section 6 of this story that Crane switches the narrator to a more omniscient one that examines the introspections of the correspondent introspections upon the "abominable injustice" of drowning a man who has strained so to reach safety.  This, the correspondent feels, would be "a crime most unnatural"; his feelings, he also feels, are shared by the others with him in the boat:

The men in the dinghy had not discussed these matters, but each had, no doubt, reflected upon them in silence and according to his mind.

Thus it is that the correspondent envisions himself the spokesman for the other men in the boat, especially with his question that is repeated in other ways,

"Why, in the name of the seven mad gods who rule the sea, was I allowed to come this far and contemplate sand and trees?"

Having shared in the fellowship born of their dire condition, the correspondent and the other survivors feel that after their rescue they "could then be interpreters" of their communal experience.

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The Open Boat

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