Fate, Chance, and Circumstance
The related themes of fate, chance, and circumstance all play significant roles in The Raft. Many of the events of in the play happen for no controllable reason on the characters' part. This is true of the event that starts the play: that is, the raft being set adrift. Though all four men tied the moorings of the raft tightly, the best the raft mates can conclude is that sea cows probably gnawed on the moorings and cut the raft loose. But no one is exactly sure what happened. Throughout the play, such random occurrences pile up. Fate takes the raft into a whirlpool, a storm, and fog. All four men escape the whirlpool. During the storm, Olotu helps Ogro and Ibobo build a sail to help take them out of the storm at the end of scene 2. Instead, by chance, the raft is split in half, and Olotu drifts away on the part with the sail. By the time they are in the fog at the end of the play, only Ibobo and Kengide are left. Before the deep fog sets in, Kengide offers a choice to Ibobo to pull up on shore and stop for the night—perhaps tempting fate in another way—or to continue on; they continue on the river, never make it to port, and lose then- lives. Throughout The Raft, none of the actions of the men end up helping them: they are constantly at the mercy of forces beyond their control.
One of the more prominent features of The Raft is the amount of conflict between the characters. Because the four men are stuck on a raft with little control over where they are going and what is happening to them, tempers constantly flare, and there is disagreement over what course they should take among the few choices they have. Much of conflict centers on Kengide. He is the leader of the group and seems to have the most experience on the river. But Kengide is also the most disagreeable and disrespectful character. He regularly expresses his opinions on every matter, but he accords only minimal politeness, at best, to others when they express opinions that he disagrees with. The other three men often argue with him and each other, a symptom of their frustration over the situation While the conflicts between the men form much of the dialogue and tension within the play, the only fatalities that occur because of it are found at the play's end. When the fog is thick and the port city seems nearby, Ibobo wants to jump off the raft and swim to shore. Kengide argues with him and will not let him go, holding him tightly and ensuring that both men die.
The situation the four men are in becomes increasingly precarious as they are faced with leaving the raft or dying. The fear of and face of death adds to the unease of The Raft. Three of the four characters in The Raft end up dead, and though the fate of the fourth character, Olotu, is uncertain, his former compatriots sometimes believe that he has died as well. Ogro is the only character to die totally unnecessarily. After the ship passes them m scene 3, Ogro decides to swim for it and to try to get picked up by it Instead, he is stoned by those on board and gets caught in the ship's propellers. Kengide and Ibobo survive to the end of the play. Kengide offers the option of pulling onshore for the night, which Ibobo decides would unnecessarily prolong their journey. They run into fog and Kengide will not even let Ibobo have the opportunity to try and save himself by swimming ashore Both men die together. All of these deaths show how helpless people can be in the face of uncontrollable circumstances, implying that escape is futile.