Why does Crane kill off one of the characters in the story?
There are two reasons why Crane allows one character to die. The first is that the story is based on a true incident in Crane's life. He was aboard a ship named "The Commadore" when it sank and he was forced to abandon ship along with three members of the crew. In the short story, Crane is the "correspondent". One of the crew members did die in the original incident. The second reason is more thematic. Crane was a naturalist and believed that man is often controlled by forces he cannot control. If anyone had a right to survive and could control his own destiny it would be Billie, the oiler. Billie is the one who does most of the rowing and seems the strongest of the men. The captain is injured, the cook is described as "fat and untidy" and the correspondent does not know much about the sea. Ironically, it is Billie who dies showing man's lack of control of his own destiny. A good reader can figure this out before the ending of the story. The others are identified only by their roles on the ship, the captain, cook and correspondent. Billie, the oiler, is the only character whose title does not begin with a "c" and he is the only character actually given a name, making him more human. Thus the reader is able to identify more with Billie and his death becomes more tragic.