Why does Crane repeat "If I am going to be drowned" three times in "The Open Boat"?
Let us remember that Crane in this short story focuses on Naturalism and the conflict of man vs. nature. Crane was writing at a time when scientific advances gave the impression that man could dominate nature, and not be subject to the rules and power of nature. Crane deliberately challenges such arrogance with the scenario in this story. Again and again, the supreme helpless state of the men is underlined as their fragile lives are contrasted by the might of the waves or other manifestations of nature such as a shark or the cold. The survival of the men depends on nothing more but absolute chance. The correspondent responds to this fact with anger and frustration in the passage you have highlighted:
"If I am going to be drowned--if I am going to be drowned--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?"
Note the irony in this passage. The repetition serves to highlight the correspondent's sense of frustration and rage at his utter helplessness as he struggles for survival but can only depend on chance to save him. Note how the ending of the story, when the oiler, the strongest out of the four men, dies, highlights this.
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This is the leit motif of the story, which is why it is repeated. a naturalist would not agree with the reasoning presented in this statement. The character is implying that nature owes him something, or that survival is guaranteed after traveling so far. A natualist would believe that man is at all times caught in the throws of fate, and that nothing has an impact on that. The universe owes nothing no matter how far a person has come.