Why does Crane repeat the passage "If I am going to be drowned..." What role does that passage play in the story as a whole?
“Perhaps an individual must consider his own death to be the final phenomenon of nature.” This line sums up the problem of human nature as far as Naturalists are concerned. The correspondent is grappling with his own mortality. He repeats, “If I am going to die….” in his frustrating inability to remedy his own situation. The shore is visible and close enough to row to, but the rollers by the shore prevent it. It seems like a cruel trick. He desires to see some sort of logic or sense to his predicament.
Naturalists stressed the notion of determinism. This is the inevitability of many aspects of our life. It is not attributed to fate, plan or destiny. There is no recourse by prayer or any capacity to change what is to come. The universe is portrayed as chaotic and random. This is shown by the death of the oiler who deserved to survive above all others. Naturalists like Crane believed we are born with the notion that we are indomitable and that our demise is a near impossibility.
The line is repeated for two main reasons. First, there are several men talking, and so each is going to be concerned with the end of his own life. This repetition shows that the concerns are universal even if the fears are individual. (No one thinks "If we are going to…") Second and more simply, it hammers home the emotional core of the story. This is a story about facing one's potential death, and the focus/fear it produces.