In "The Open Boat" which of the following seems to be most central to the story’s theme?All human beings are ultimately the same in that we are all equally powerless against nature. As the...

In "The Open Boat" which of the following seems to be most central to the story’s theme?

  1. All human beings are ultimately the same in that we are all equally powerless against nature.
  2. As the novelist George Eliot once said, “Character is destiny.”
  3. In the face of disaster, people tend to become selfless, forgetting their differences and bonding together.
  4. Our individual fates are ultimately determined by forces beyond our control.
  5. We can never know the full truth; all we have is our own limited individual perspective.
  6. Pride is man’s downfall.

Asked on by sbridges

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mwestwood | College Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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While strong arguments can be made for #4, and #5, statement #1 seems most central to the theme of Stephen Crane's "The Open Boat."  For, the proof of this statement comes at the end of the story when Billie, the oiler, the strongest rower in the boat, the man who makes the most able effort to swim ashore, is ironically the one who does not survive.  And, he drowns, not in the depths of the sea, but in shallow water as though a mere whim of nature carelessly ends his life against all reason.

Earlier in the narrative, as he and the others contemplate their destiny, the correspondent ponders,

 'Am I going to drown? Can it be possible? Can it be possible? Can it be possible?' Perhaps an individual must consider his own death to be the final phenomenon of nature.’’

These thoughts of the correspondent, whose character reflect those of the author--Crane himself had a similar experience of being stranded at sea as correspondent of the war in Cuba in 1897 when an oiler named Billy Higgins drowned in the surf as he struggled to shore--reflect the individual's overrating of reason and his individual significance against the mindless power of nature.  That the oiler is the only character whose name is given suggests his importance and reality; however his death in shallow water clearly underscores the theme of man's powerlessness, no matter who he is, against an uncaring and potent nature.

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