Themes and Meanings
Outerbridge Reach is the story of a man staking his and his family’s fate on a single decision that will either make or break him, pitting himself against the sea, society, and self, pushing himself to his limits—and failing. In the tradition of Joseph Conrad, Herman Melville, and Ernest Hemingway, Owen’s battle against the sea represents all of humankind’s challenges. In the harsh geometry involved, the sea, sky, and sailor form a triangle, with other concerns completely removed, all emphasis being placed on the ethics of winning and losing. Ultimately, Anne’s final musings make clear the symbolism of the voyage: “The ocean encompassed everything, and everything could be understood in terms of it. Everything true about it was true about life in general.” Within this tradition, Owen is the believer, the idealist shattered by the harsh discovery of emptiness and delusion. One of the final entries in his diary is from Melville’s Moby Dick: Or, The Whale (1851): “Be true to the dreams of your youth.”
Like Robert Stone’s other novels, Outerbridge Reach questions the cost of pursuing the American Dream: Success turns to ashes, lives disintegrate, and nightmares come true. It is a story of failures of responsibility, of loyalties challenged and betrayed, of human weakness and limitation, the shattering of “lovely illusions.” As such, it is meant to be a portrait of its time, an exploration of the deceptions...
(The entire section is 460 words.)