In "The Open Boat" who is the initiate and does he have an epiphany?

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mwestwood eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The correspondent in Crane's "The Open Boat" is the initiate who is, in a small boat for the first time, rowing with others as they struggle to reach a shore and save themselves from drowning.  This man's ephiphany is reached when it occurs to him that

...nature does not regard him as important, and...she feels she would not maim the universe by disposing of him.

As he ponders the indifference of Nature, the correspondent suddenly remembers a verse "he had forgotten that he had forgotten" about a soldier in Algiers who lay dying.  In his childhood, the correspondent was indifferent to the man's condition:

He had never considered it his affair that a soldier of the Legion lay dying in algiers, nor had it appeared to him as a matter for sorrow.  It was less to him than the breaking of a pencil's point.

Likewise, he realizes, is the concern of Nature "less than the breaking of a pencil's point.  Now, the actuality of death comes to him, and he is "moved by a profound and perfectly impersonal comprehension  He was sorry for the soldier of the Legion...."  Later, the correspondent feels much the same for himself.  Exhausted, his mind is dominated "...by the muscles.  It merely occurred to him that if he should drown it would be a shame." The correspondent realizes that his life is inconsequential, especially to Nature.

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The Open Boat

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