What is the meaning of the first paragraph of "The Open Boat" as it relates to literary naturalism? Establish the naturalistic nature of the plight of the men in the open dinghy.

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dymatsuoka eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The first paragraph of Stephen Crane's story "The Open Boat" quickly establishes some of the main principles of literary naturalism.  Novelists of the naturalist movement create ordinary characters and place them in extraordinary situations.  It is clearly evident in the opening paragraph that the men in the story are in a situation which is anything but ordinary, surrounded as they are by huge, foaming waves "that (seem) thrust up in points like rocks".

A central tenet of literary naturalism is the idea that man is at the mercy of his environment.  In the first paragraph of the story, this relationship is vividly established.  The presence of the men is only indicated by their eyes, which "(glance) level, and (are) fastened upon the waves that (sweep) toward them".  The rest of the paragraph is spent in describing the awesome majesty of the waves, which grossly overpower the men with both size and strength, making the men appear puny and insignificant.

The tone of the first paragraph is also typical of a work of literary naturalism.  The story is told by a third person omniscient narrator who reports what he sees as a scientist might in recording his observations on an experiment.  The narrator speaks in a detached, objective manner, describing in minute detail that which can be perceived by his senses.

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The Open Boat

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