"The Open Boat," according to one critic, represents Crane's vision of "a universe essentially indifferent to man." Do you agree?
I definitely agree with the statement. This great short story of a battle between man and nature proves the truth of this statement by presenting the four men of the story as utterly helpless in the face of the enormity of nature. Again and again in the text, the helplessness of the men is referred to as they are forced to concede that it will only be utter chance that saves them. At any stage, it is clear, they could perish through any number of different manifestations of nature: exposure, starvation, a shark or the sea itself. Note how the waves are described in the first section of the novel:
As each slaty wall of water approached, it shut all else from the view of the men in the boat, and it was not difficult to imagine that this particular wave was the final outburst of the ocean, the last effort of the grim water. There was a terrible grace in the move of the waves, and they came in silence, save for the snarling of the crests.
Note how the waves are presented. Words such as "grim," "terrible grace," and "snarling" present them almost as predators of nature, stalking and hunting down the men to claim their lives.
This sense of utter complete chance is reflected in the death of the oiler at the end. Although he is one of the stronger men, the randomness of nature causes him to die and the weaker three to survive.