In Stephen Crane's "Open Boat," there is in the correspondent and the others who are shipwrecked an antithesis of feelings that parallels the rise and fall of the waves as the men "watched the shore grow" and feel "the influence of this expansion." Their "doubt and direful apprehension was leaving" the men's minds, and the boat "could not prevent a quiet cheerfulness"; yet, at the same time, his being at the mercy of the fateful sea clarifies for the correspondent how erroneous his beliefs in his own importance have been.
- After the shipwreck and the correspondent finds himself with three other men in a dinghy, "wondered why he was here."
- The correspondent rails against an uncaring universe and its seeming injustice:
"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 contemplate sand and trees? Was I brought here merely to have my nose dragged away as I was about to nibble the sacred cheese of life?"
- The correspondent's mind fights to overcome his weariness. After hours at sea, the correspondent tries to grapple with the facts of his situation, but "the mind was dominated at this time by the muscles."
- After the correspondent falls overboard, he wrestles with the fact that the water is cold and the "immovable quality of the shore" as he is caught in a current. He thinks, "Im' going to drown? Can it be possible?" He ponders the senselessness of his death at this point.
- The cook and the corespondent argue about the difference between a house of refuge and a life-saving station when the cook believes there is a house of refuge near Mosquito Inlet Light.
- The cook comments on the "good thing" of an on-shore wind, and the others agree, but the captain chuckles "in a way that expressed humour, contempt, tragedy, all in one."
- When the captain then assures his crew they will get ashore since the "ethics of their situation was decidely against any open suggestion of hopelessness," the cook then dissents, "Yes! if we don't catch hell in the surf!"
- The main conflict is man vs. nature as the men struggle against an indifferent sea that threatens them with its expansiveness, its sharks, its cold, its current that prevents the boat from finally reaching the shore. While in the water, the correspondent struggles against the sea:
"Was I brought here merely to have my nose dragged away as I was about to nibble the sacred cheese of life? It is preposterous....She [Fate] cannot mean to drown me....Not after all this work."
- The climax, the highest point of emotional intensity, comes as the men struggle to reach the shore and wonder why no one sees them, not knowing there is no lighthouse or house of refuge. So, when no one is to be seen, the men realize that they must try to reach shore on their own. The captain cautions that the boat will swamp and they must swim to shore. Finally, a man runs and undresses; rushing into the sea toward them.