The central theme of Naturalist style is that man is at the mercy of his environment. This theme is evident in several quotes depicting the men in the vulnerable open boat being buffeted by the sea, the inexhorable force of nature.
In the opening paragraphs of the story, the injured captain thinks about the ineffectiveness of the actions of "even the bravest and most enduring" in general terms when he recalls man's utter helplessness when,
"willy-nilly, the firm fails, the army loses, the ship goes down" (Section 1).
Free will and human efforts count for little in the face of the harsh realities of the natural world.
In the following section, the author creates a vivid image of the little boat with four helpless men bobbing in the water, at the mercy of the sea around her:
"She seemed just a wee thing wallowing, miraculously top up, at the mercy of five oceans. Occasionally a great spread of water, like white flames, swarmed into her",
while the tiny, insignificant men, cognizant of their position in the scheme of things, "bail...serenely" (Section 2).
As their little boat is tossed by the furious waves, the men cling to any hope they can find, but in the end they know they will survive only if the elements allow them to. Their conversation reflects this feeling, when they say,
"we'll get ashore all right...if this wind holds...if we don't catch hell in the surf" (Section 2).