What is a possible thesis statement on "The Open Boat" by Stephen Crane? 

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mwestwood eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Crane's "Open Boat" has defied categorization.  For instance, some critics feel it is a Naturalistic story in the point of view that an unsympathetic nature allows the men to be at the whim of the sea; others perceive it as an Existentialist narrative as the correspondent realizes the absurdity of the human condition; finally, some critics, such as James Nagel, who is in Stephen Crane and Literary Impressionism, contends that Crane's fiction mimicked the concepts of the Impressionist painters. 

By emphasizing the flawed perspective of individuals, Crane did not simply attempt to reconstruct 'reality,' but rather showed that reality cannot be reduced to a single viewpoint.

Just as the Impressionists broke the painted object into its pieces as reflected in the light of "plein air" [the outdoors], so does Crane have the various characters in his short story view their fates as they interpret what happens with the natural forces.

Perhaps, then, you may wish to take this perspective of Impressionism and explain how the different characters have "flawed perspectives."  If you choose to do so, research the ideas of Impressionists and the essay by Nagel.

Or, you can take the Existential approach, which is different from the norm, as well.  Either of these approaches will make your analysis/interpretation of the story more intriguing.  Good luck. 

karaejacobi eNotes educator| Certified Educator

When writing an analysis of a literary work, you might want to focus on either a prominent theme in the work or on the way the style of the work relates to the content or theme.

In terms of theme, you have several options with Stephen Crane's famous story "The Open Boat." You could discuss the way the characters' emotions progress throughout the story—when and why they feel more hopeful or more hopeless. You could also consider the conflict between individual survival and social responsibility or camaraderie. The story ends with the sentence, "And they felt that they could then understand." An essay on "The Open Boat" might consider what the men have come to understand and how.

If you were to discuss the style of the story, you might focus on the narrative perspective, which is a third person limited omniscient perspective. Think about how that choice of narrator affects the story we get. As other answers also mentioned, you could consider how the story fits with the Naturalism movement, as Crane is one of its best-known authors.

edcon eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Besides analyzing "The Open Boat" as a work of either Naturalism or Existentialism and how its themes relate to those movements, you could examine the story for the techniques Crane employs and how they create meaning.  Imagery, symbolism, allegory, setting and situational irony are all techniques that Crane uses in turning an experience in which he took part into a meditation on existence, man's place in the natural world, brotherhood, and survival.

In analyzing some of the aforementioned techniques, you could discuss how they function in defining Naturalism as a movement related to, but distinct from, Realism.  

If you were to take this approach, a closed thesis that limits the scope of your argument could look something like this: "The unrelenting indifference of the waves and the limits of the men's strength against them represent mankind's situation in the universe; though not all of them survive, Crane suggests that what makes their situation bearable is the company of each other."

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The Open Boat

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