Why does the oiler die in "The Open Boat"?

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"The Open Boat" is actually an adventure story. It was published in his first collection of short stories which, significantly, was titled The Open Boat and Other Tales of Adventure (1898) People read "The Open Boat" for enjoyment, not for the philosophical implications. They share vicariously in the experiences of the men who are trying to save themselves from death at sea. But is is a more serious adventure story than the typical adventure stories in which there are usually happy endings. Stephen Crane probably decided to have one of the four occupants of the lifeboat die in the surf mainly to show that there had a very real and present danger all along. They were in danger of capsizing out at sea and then in danger of being drowned in the surf when they almost reach land. Two of the men are saved by a man who takes his clothes off and charges out into the surf to help them. Evidently the shipwrecked men are too weak to cope with this last challenge posed by the heavy surf.

Then he saw...

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