What is Crane saying in this passage of "The Open Boat"?
"When it occurs to a man that nature does not regard him as important, and that she feels she would not maim the universe by disposing of him, he at first wishes to throw bricks at the temple, and he hates deeply the fact that there are no bricks and no temples. Any visible expression of nature would surely be pelleted with his jeers.
Then, if there be no tangible thing to hoot he feels, perhaps, the desire to confront a personification and indulge in pleas, bowed to one knee, and with hands supplicant, saying: 'Yes, but I love myself.'"
The context of this quote is that the characters of the story have been in a dinghy for several days. They are close to land, but they are unable to get inshore. Essentially, they are beginning to confront (at least internally) the prospect that they may not survive, a reality that is portrayed rather bluntly by the fact that a shark is beginning to circle around the boat. This passage, then, reflects the sheer unimportance of four men amid the vastness of nature. This is difficult for people to understand, as we are inherently self-centered. But we are powerless, or at least very weak, before nature, and our lives mean little in the grand scheme of things. They are only important to us.