In "The Open Boat" by Stephen Crane, in which the conflict is man vs. nature, what do the men fear about nature?
The story is told mainly through the point of view of the correspondent, who is presumably writing about the experience after the event. What he and the other three men fear is mainly the indifference of nature. Nature cares nothing about them, whether they live or die. If they manage to get through the surf and to the shore, that will be a matter of sheer luck. If the boat is swamped by a big wave and they all drown at sea, that will also be a matter of luck. Nature is infinitely more powerful than these four men.
The little boat, lifted by each towering sea, and splashed viciously by the crests, made progress that in the absence of sea-weed was not apparent to those in her. She seemed just a wee thing wallowing, miraculously, top-up, at the mercy of five oceans. Occasionally, a great spread of water, like white flames, swarmed into her.
Stephen Crane's main point seems to be that there is no god who has any compassion for human beings. They have to look out for themselves as best they can in this pitiless universe. Crane's short story "The Open Boat" makes the reader feel the imminence of death and the cold, indifference of nature. The boat itself seems to symbolize the fragility of human life.