What are some examples of Naturalism in Stephen Crane's "The Open Boat"?

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In Stephen Crane's "The Open Boat," examples of Naturalism highlight the indifferent forces of nature and the absence of divine intervention. The story portrays human vulnerability against nature's relentless power, as seen when the men struggle in a dinghy amidst unforgiving waves, suggesting nature's disregard for human life. Additionally, the narrative underscores the randomness of fate, illustrated by the death of the physically robust oiler, Billie, despite his fitness and efforts. Ultimately, the survivors find solace only through human solidarity, emphasizing that in a harsh and indifferent natural world, humans must rely on each other for comfort and survival.

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The prevailing ideas in Naturalism include a belief that human beings are natural creatures and, thus, are subject to the same laws of nature that all creatures are—there is nothing special about us, from nature's perspective. Further, there is no divine being looking out for us, protecting us, or answering our prayers. Finally, the only real hope we have of being looked out for or protected is in our relationships with one another. Nature doesn't care about us, and God will not intercede for us, but we can find some comfort in our relationships with each other.

We see the lack of concern or care that nature has for us when the men are in the dinghy. The ocean does what the ocean does, regardless of the men's presence. The narrator says, "These waves were most wrongfully and barbarously abrupt and tall, and each froth-top was a problem in small boat navigation." The tiny boat is bounced all over the place by the relentless waves, jostling the men inside, and the waves are as "jagged" and pointed as rocks, ready to destroy the boat at any minute.

Further, there is no higher being—nothing in charge, so to speak—that controls the fates or futures of human beings. We are on our own. The narrator imagines that the internal monologue of each man goes something like this:

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? Was I brought here merely to have my nose dragged away as I was about to nibble the sacred cheese of life? It is preposterous. If this old ninny-woman, Fate, cannot do better than this, she should be deprived of the management of men's fortunes. She is an old hen who knows not her intention. If she has decided to drown me, why did she not do it in the beginning and save me all this trouble. The whole affair is absurd.

As further evidence of the lack of concern by a god or even fate, none of the characters are named except Billie, the oiler—the man who ought to have the best chance of surviving this ordeal. The captain is injured and older; the cook is out of shape and not accustomed to hard physical labor, nor is the correspondent. Only Billie is hale, hearty, and young, and yet he is the only one of the men who dies.

In the end, having gone through their terrible ordeal, the surviving men are comforted and cared for by strangers. People rush out to assist them and then offer them succor, as if to suggest that in the absence of concern from any other quarter, human beings can always take care of one another, and this is what we can offer each other in a harsh natural world.

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Literary critics believe that Naturalism takes some inspiration from Darwin's evolutionary theory that the fittest survive.  Viewed through this lens, it seems inexplicable why the cook, correspondent, and captain survive while Billie, the oiler, does not, but naturalistic writers like Crane believed that there was a limit to the applicability of Darwin's theory.

The fitness of the men goes beyond the physical.  Because of the psychologically grueling nature of their plight of being at the mercy of an indifferent environment, namely, the sea, their survival depends on their ability to maintain their focus and work together. The cook, though "fat" and unable to help with the rowing, remains "cheerful" and amenable to the captain's directives. His ability to bail the seawater from the open boat keeps it from sinking. The captain, though injured and unable to help row or bail, uses his experience and intellect to navigate and create a sail from an overcoat. His calm voice and levelheaded demeanor prevents panic even in the midst of their troubling situation. When the men are in the midst of swimming to shore, he advises the cook to float on his back and use the oar to paddle. The cook benefits from the captain's wisdom and survives. The fact that Billie (the oiler) endures rowing stints with the correspondent and swims strongly toward shore only to die within sight of it exemplifies the naturalistic idea of determinism. Despite Billie's strength and desire to survive, he encounters an indifferent, superior force that he cannot overcome. Billie is not rewarded for his perseverance; Nature, in fact, neither rewards or punishes him.

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In his story, "The Open Boat," Stephen Crane portrays the men on the boat as representatives of human endurance in an indifferent universe against which they are helpless. This, of course is a theme of Naturalism.  Other aspects of Naturalism that Crane uses are as follows:

  • There is a view of Nature that is lacking in sentiment and is bleakly realistic.  For instance, Part I which opens with the simple statement that "they" were unaware of the sky's color, contains these lines,

 As each slaty wall of water approached, it shut all esle from the view of the men...and it was not difficult to imagine that this particular wave was the final outburst of the ocean, the last effort of the grim water.

  • There is an emphasis upon a world in which God is distant or entirely absent.  For example, after rowing some ways, the men look for some life-saving station, but find none. They, then, rail against an unprovidential and unreasoning universe:

"If I am going to be drowned--if I am going to be drowned, why, in the name of the seven gods, who rule the seven seas, was I allowed to come thus far and contemplate sand and trees?"

  • There is an emphasis on a struggle to survive that is almost animalistic in its lack of choice.  Crane narrates, 

In his struggle to reach the captain and the boat, he reflected that when one gets properly wearied drowning must really be a comfortable arrangement....

  •  The tone of the omniscient narrator is detached.  For instance, in describing the shark that circles around the boat as the other men sleep while the correspondent rows, the narrator describes it thusly,

The thing which had followed the boat and waited had evidently grown bored at the delay.  There was no longer to be heard the slash of the cutwater, and there was no longer the flame of the long tail.

It is worth noting, however, that Crane also employs other points of view such as that of different characters.

  • Ordinary characters are placed in extraordinary circumstances. The correspondent has never expected to be in a small dinghy on the cresting waves of the sea with no land in sight.
  • The style is understated.  When, for instance, the oiler, who is an accomplished sailor, unexpectedly dies, Crane merely writes, "In the shallows, face downward, lay the oiler."
  • There is a certain determinism.  What the men are plays no part in their outcome as exemplified by the only death being that of the oiler.
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How do the situation and the outcome of Stephen Crane's short story "The Open Boat" exemplify "naturalism"?

“Naturalism” in literature is often associated with the following traits, many of which are exemplified in Stephen Crane’s short story “The Open Boat”:

  • an emphasis on a view of nature, including human nature, that is realistic, unromantic, and unsentimental.  Certainly Crane’s story, which focuses on a desperate struggle by shipwrecked men to survive in the dangerous ocean, is naturalistic in this sense.
  • an emphasis on a universe in which God can seem absent or distant. God in the Christian sense – a compassionate, loving, merciful, fatherly deity – is never mentioned in Crane’s story.  This is especially ironic, since one might have expected at least one of the men to call for help from this God.  Instead, the only “gods” mentioned (repeatedly) are the “the seven mad gods who rule the sea.”
  • naturalistic fiction often emphasizes some kind of struggle to survive, and certainly this is true in Crane’s story.
  • naturalistic fiction can seem dark and depressing, at least to anyone who looks to fiction to be uplifting and cheerful. Certainly Crane’s story is not brimming with optimism or joy.
  • naturalistic fiction often emphasizes challenges, suffering, pain, and death, and certainly these traits can be found in Crane’s tale.
  • the style of naturalistic fiction is often dry, understated, unexciting, even a bit drab. Naturalistic style tends to focus on facts rather than stirring (or otherwise strong) emotions. Consider this sentence, for instance, from “The Open Boat”:

The correspondent, pulling at the other oar, watched the waves andwondered why he was there.

Not all the phrasing in “The Open Boat,” of course, is as plain and unadorned as the one just quoted.  Consider, for instance, the final sentence of the story:

When it came night, the white waves paced to and fro in the moonlight, and the wind brought the sound of the great sea's voice to the men on shore, and they felt that they could then be interpreters.

Still, one is far more likely to find sentences like this one in Melville’s Moby-Dick than in Crane’s “The Open Boat.”

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How does Crane express naturalism throughout his story "The Open Boat"?

"The Open Boat" is a classic of naturalism due to its emphasis on the indifference of nature and, by extension, the universe. The men in the boat are angry at their misfortune, blaming the ill will of the sea or even God, but the story emphasizes time and again the idea that there is no outer force manipulating human destiny. The men's predicament is a result of chance and circumstance, not fate.

Naturalism tends to focus on how the environment affects human behavior, which is another facet of "The Open Boat." The characters start to act in ways contrary to how they might were they in civilization. They grow despairing and tired. All their assumptions about how the world works are shattered by their experience. These two elements are mainly what make this story a classic of naturalism.

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In the story "The Open Boat," how does Stephen Crane exemplify the theme of naturalism?

In "The Open Boat," Stephen Crane exemplifies the theme of naturalism through the simple, unsentimental clarity of his descriptions of both natural phenomena and human feelings.

Naturalist writing is realistic and scientifically detached, characterized by clear descriptions of events which are often dramatic in themselves but are not romanticized by the author. Almost any line taken at random from "The Open Boat" demonstrates this style of writing. Take this passage, for instance:

The oiler, steering with one of the two oars in the boat, sometimes raised himself suddenly to keep clear of water that swirled in over the stern. It was a thin little oar and it seemed often ready to snap.

The situation here is a perilous one, but Crane does not use any grandiose adjectives or colorful metaphors to make it more vivid. He simply describes what is happening in a plain style.

This is not to say that the story is devoid of figurative language. Crane employs several similes, such as the following:

The craft pranced and reared, and plunged like an animal. As each wave came, and she rose for it, she seemed like a horse making at a fence outrageously high.

Here, a natural event on the sea is compared with a natural event on the land, with which Crane might expect his readers to be more familiar. This is done for the purposes of explanation, not to add drama, since the situation Crane describes is probably more dangerous than the one he uses for the purposes of comparison.

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How would you describe the characteristics of literary naturalism in reference to Stephen Crane's "The Open Boat"?

Naturalism is a literary movement which focuses on very specific aspects of life. The characteristics of Naturalistic texts contain the following ideals:

1.  The text is written from an objective point-of-view. This means that the author writes from a scientific perspective similar to that of an experiment. The author states that they are simply describing the action of what is happening- they do not attempt to change or influence the character or the action of the text in any way.

2. The characters described are typically deterministic. The protagonist simply sees a problem with the circumstances that they have found theme selves in, or other characters in, and wishes to change them.

3. Given the text is written from an objective point-of-view, the text is also pessimistic and emotionally cold. The author is, again, only describing what they are "seeing" from a observers point-of-view. They wish to have no compassion for the characters because it would force them to interfere with the action of the story.

4. The setting is one you would find in everyday life. There are no spectacular scenes in regards to elaborate castles or upper-class niceties. The settings are typically set in lower-class homes and workplaces.

5. The characters described are typical, like the settings. Walking around a mine would allow one simply pick any worker and place them into a Naturalistic text.

Crane's "The Open Boat" includes many of the characteristics as described above.

1. Crane writes the story of the men from an objective point-of-view. He refuses to influence the story in a way which would offer any relief to the men. Instead, the harshness of the sea proves to be more than the men can handle at times.

2. The men are deterministic. Many of them believe that they will be rescued or find safety soon. A few never give up hope.

3. Emotional coldness is exemplified in the descriptions of nature which surrounds the men. The ocean, the birds, and the empty house of refuge shows the disparaging circumstances that the men are truly in.

4. The setting is ordinary, like the characters. There is nothing elaborate about the men or the dinghy to which they cling to.

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