The cigar scene in Crane's The Open Boat symbolically reinforces the thoughts and feelings the men in the boat have as they approach the lighthouse and watch the land grow from "paper thin" to "a line of black and a line of white, trees, and sand." The third person narrator of the story of peril on the sea first describes the feeling between the men in the boat and their devotion to the captain. He then begins to describe the progress of the lighthouse growing large enough to see: "the light-house had been growing slowly larger," which is itself a symbol for the men's hope of rescue growing correspondingly larger.
As the "land arose from the sea" with silhouettes of commonplace things, the narrator describes the transformation in the men: all "watched the shore grow"; the men felt "the influence of this expansion"; "doubt and direful apprehension was leaving" the men's minds; the boat "could not prevent a quiet cheerfulness." In their increasing optimism, they "rode this wild colt of a dingey like circus men."
It is here that the narrator explains that the correspondent finds four good cigars out eight in his pocket while another finds three good matches. Now they smoke their cigars feeling that all is right with the world because of how "beautifully the land loomed out of the sea." It is clear now that the cigar scene symbolizes their feelings of hope and deliverance that grows as the vision of land grows. The broader purpose in terms of the text is to create a growing tension and suspense leading into the next chapter in which the dialogue portends of more suffering: "there don't seem to be any signs of life about your house of refuge ... Funny they don't see us! ... We'll swamp sure."