What does "'Will you spell me?'" reveal about the correspondent and the oiler in "The Open Boat"?

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As they struggle to make progress toward the potential of landfall, the oiler and the correspondent recognize the immense physical effort which continuous rowing will require. They therefore develop a plan to alternate shifts; one man will row "until he los[es] the ability" and only then will awaken the other man to take over the necessary duty of continuous rowing.

The oiler takes his turn and dutifully rows past the point of exhaustion. His head droops forward and "sleep blind[s] him." And still he continues rowing forward. Finally, when he has given absolutely every ounce of physical strength within him, he "meekly" asks the correspondent to "spell [him] for a little while" so that he can rest.

This exchange demonstrates the loyalty which exists between the two men. They give completely of themselves, expecting that the other man can be trusted to do the same. The oiler makes his request "meekly," seemingly embarrassed that he doesn't have more strength to offer during his shift. The correspondent surely recognizes the extent of his companion's effort when the oiler "seem[s] to go to sleep instantly" as the correspondent takes over.

The men respect and trust each other to give every ounce of physical effort they possess, depleting their individual reserves in order to increase the likelihood of survival for the entire group.

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