What is the importance of this line in "The Open Boat": "Just you drown me, now, and then hear what I call you"

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mwestwood eNotes educator| Certified Educator

As the men in the dingy fight against the infinite waves of the ocean in Stephen Crane's "The Open Boat," there is a sort of inner refrain which collectively runs through their minds:

If I am going to be drowned--if I am going to be drowned--if I am going to be drowned, why, in the name of the seven mad gods who rule the sea, was I allowed to come thus far and comtemplate sand and trees?

This inner refrain indicates the men's rational inclination to make sense out of an indifferent universe.  In Section 4, the men gain sight of a shore and think that there may be signs of life; however, there are none because there is no life-saving station within twenty miles. Yet, in their desperate hope, they

made dark and opprobrious remarks concerning the eyesight of the nation's life-savers.

Finally, the captain tells the others that they will have to make a try for themselves.  As the men contemplate their plight, inwardly they wonder at the preposterousness of coming so far for no reason.  In their minds they are angry at "this old ninny-woman, Fate" who should be deprived of managing men's fortunes if she can do no bettter.  Railing against fate, the men feel that there must be salvation--"She dare not drown me...Not after all this work."  If, then, they should indeed be saved, Crane writes that the men might have the impulse to shake their fists at the clouds above the shore, as though uttering an oath,

"Just you drown me, now, and then hear what I call you!"

Of course, it is but an unreasoning universe against which the men rail.  For, the irony of the threat to the clouds is that the men are virtually helpless against the forces of an indifferent nature.  Crane expresses this helplessness by having the oiler die, as he is one who should have survived over the others. With the oilers death, Crane expresses how the man is betrayed by his inner refrain and the narrowness of his vision of the universe and "Fate."