A Glimpse of the Power of Nature in Stephen Crane's The Open Boat

Nature is known to play significant roles in Stephen Crane’s “The Open Boat”; it leaves a major impact on the lives and survival of the four main characters. Throughout the story, the characters’ lives are threatened after a shipwreck and seem to attribute their horrible experiences to nature. The author also uses language to suggest that nature can be a fifth character in the story meant to lead the group to their failure. The characters have a pessimistic view of nature and progressively develop an acceptance of nature’s indifference as they struggle to survive this tragic event.

”The Open Boat” is broken up into seven chapters that describe the brutal journey its characters have to overcome in order to survive. Every step of the way nature is injected into the story to stress the significance of its presence each time. Stephen Crane introduces the reader to nature by describing the scene as it is, not intending to harm but consisting of dangerous conditions.

Crane exemplifies nature as a fifth character throughout the story by giving it humanlike traits. Through the statements of the men, nature has been given a gender. It is seen as a woman, not only a reference to Mother Nature but also to signify the grasp and helplessness the men feel with relation to women. An article titled “Nature as a Protagonist in ‘The Open Boat” tells that men “find it difficult to keep it in mind that nature does not equate to nurture” (Hilfer, “Nature Protagonist”).

Get quality help now
Dr. Karlyna PhD

Proficient in: Experience

4.7 (235)

“ Amazing writer! I am really satisfied with her work. An excellent price as well. ”

+84 relevant experts are online
Hire writer

At the beginning of the story, the men know the restraining ways of the sea but are unfamiliar of the barriers that will be thrust upon them during their struggle. The waves of the ocean are portrayed as a symbol of a divider isolating the dinghy from anything else. Crane describes the waves: “slaty walls of water… that shut all else from the view of the men in the boat”.

This expresses the idea that the men are cut off from the rest of the world and left at the mercy of nature and its waves. This is a method the author uses to try to foreshadow the situations the men will encounter and how their expectations will never settle in one direction. Nature is always keeping these men on their feet worrying about the next step or leading them into false hope. An analysis of “The Open Boat” states that as the men take their course and deal with the difficulties brought upon them, “the realization sets in that they are largely helpless in the face of nature’s awesome power” (Elliot, “Open Boat”). This perception of nature causes the men to have a negative outlook on their own survival. Not only are the waves representations that hinder an optimistic approach; the inclusions of fierce animalistic imagery while out to sea also contribute to the theme of a malicious nature.

There is a talk of a shark that seems to be taunting the men in the dinghy by just merely “playing around” the boat. The lurking of the shark can represent a cynical nature trying to mock the men as well as steer them off course with fear. The presence of the birds towards the start of the treacherous endeavor, demonstrates another example of animalistic imagery regarding nature hold on the characters. These birds angered the men; they would “fly parallel to the boat,” staring with “unblinking scrutiny” at them, making them feel helpless to the power of nature. An article titled “The Three-fold View of Nature in ‘The Open Boat” states that, “the men’s feeling that nature is malevolent and constantly threatening is conveyed through an abundance of animistic images” (Marcus, “Three-Fold View”). Animal imagery continues throughout the story each with a different direction.

The men attempt their first approach hoping to come closer to shore, only to be defeated by the overbearing conditions of the sea. When land is seen far in the distance, the men come to an initial realization that they will survive and overcome nature’s grasp. Nature is using a tantalizing method to deceive the minds of the characters, by showing them the shore. The devious actions of the sea make the men think their chances for survival are moving in a positive direction. ”This expansion doubt and direful apprehension was leaving the minds of the men” after seeing the shore closer than ever with a lighthouse in their vision. The men are now angered after being let down, and are now forced to continue their struggle for survival. This part of the story depicts a consistent role of nature as a cruel hindrance for the men’s survival, which verifies their pessimistic attitude towards nature.

The thought that they may perish fills the men with rage, thinking they will fail after having land in their sights. Crane implants a quote into the story to emphasize the feelings of characters; the captain says: If I am going to be drowned–ifl am going to be drowneduif 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? This quote is found numerous times throughout the story; each time giving a shortened version to show the change of attitude the captain and the other characters have endured. Nature can be seen as the cause of the changes all the men go through along their voyage to safety. The reference to a cat and mouse conflict in this quote is used to illustrate the inferiority the men feel towards a superior creature, nature.

The intent of nature is questioned throughout the different sections by each of the men in the story. Each occurrence, whether good or bad, renders a different interpretation of why the specific incidents happen when they do. The entire journey, nature is thought to be malicious towards the four characters and theirjourney to survival. In the sixth section the men start to believe that it is truly the intention of nature to have them all be drowned. This is due to a night of misery; the sea makes the characters deal with terrible conditions in order to stabilize their dinghy and their lives. One of the men, the correspondent is now infuriated with nature and wishes to see “any visible expression” just to confront her actions and challenge her authority once and for all. At this point the men are getting tired of being let down and have lost hope in the sense of their survival.

The men’s free will is contested as nature takes hold of their boat and their lives. A book titled “Determined Fiction,” by Lee Clark Mitchell, discusses many of Crane’s works and his similar styles within them. This book states the “naturalism reveals the conflict of determinism with free will as…tension in our views about human behavior.” Determinism is a philosophy that means all events are determined by some type of external force; nature is this force in “The Open Boat.” The character’s feel that nature is controlling the outcome of their difficult journey and there is nothing that any of them can do to stop it. After the second utterance of the quote “ifl am going to be drowned,” an additional thought is expressed. The men admit that fate responsible for the tragedies that they face while at sea. They describe fate as an “old ninny-women… who knows not of her intention” and should not have the power to “manage men’s fortunes”.

The characters in the boat feel as if nature is overpowering them, which lessens their motivation to continue forward towards survival. Acceptance After a certain points in the story, the men’s perception of nature changes through the many experiences they have overcome. There is a gradual realization that nature is not directly inhibiting the men from safety. Acceptance is now the feeling aboard the dinghy, allowing the men to justify nature’s indifference while at sea. The representation of the birds further portrays nature’s sense of indifference towards the main characters. When the sea is getting rough, the Seagulls “sat comfortably” on the surface, without a care, unaffected by the treacherous waves, while the men in the dinghy are struggling to battle them. Just after this incident, the men have a change of hope when a gust of wind is shifting them towards the shore.

At this time the men forget the malevolent nature and its acts of dismay, hoping to sun/ive while realizing at the same time that nature’s intention is not what they had thought. The article states that nature’s actions here ”contrast with the vicious motions of the sea” the men previously faced, which also “suggests natures indifference” towards them (Marcus, “Three—Fold View”). The lack of emotional stance that nature possesses towards the men is only realized through their own actions individually. How each of them at is the true determination of what will happen next. In an account about the works of Stephen Crane, titled “The Pattern of Affirmation,” the author discusses the relationship between Crane’s characters in ”The Open Boat” and nature: The indifference of nature does not negate human value or human will; it is not the definitive factor of existence the indifference of nature is symbolic of man’s struggle against the seven mad gods who rule the sea; but that rule is not absolute in that it controls man’s every move or makes him a mindless puppet. (Westbrook, “Pattern Affirmation”).

Stating that the power nature has over these men is minute and not absolute supports this thought of acceptance of nature’s indifference. Running parallel to a time of pessimism, the men also come to acceptance within the quote previously mentioned about nature and fate. “She cannot drown me. Not after all this work” shows the reader that the men have come to realize that they will be drown by a superior force but now question the time of suffering brought upon them during the course. After this preliminary discovery, it finally occurs to the men that “nature does not regard him as important” and the ironic intentions assumed by these four characters has been untrue. The men believe that nature is out to destroy their lives without a care, when truthfully nature is just running its course. Towards the end of the story and the final approach to shore, the men face the strongest winds and most intense conditions they have seen.

With new discovery in their minds, nature is not a major blame in the outcome of their journey. The boat capsizes; leaving all four men in the water, forced to fend for themselves separated from each other for their final battle with the sea. In the fight for survival each member of the boat struggles to maintain the incentive to continue forward. Quietness is now among the men all floating towards the shore, exhausted from the night before. The oiler, the dinghy’s strongest character, has not survived the last endeavor and is left drown so close to safety. Marcus writes, “the oiler‘s death results from the unconscious force of nature and three men are spared by the same chance that destroys him” (“Three-Fold View”). This scene eliminates the “black and white” chance of survival for the men in the story. “But she was indifferent, flatly indifferent,” a statement by one of the four men, supports the idea that nature does not have direct intentions to affect the survival of these four simple men.

The power of nature represented in Stephen Crane’s, ”The Open Boat” is consistent throughout the story. The men’s idea of nature is what prominently changes while embarked on theirjourney. Taking a pessimistic approach to nature gives off defeat with not explanation. The character could have given up along the way but instead stayed the course physically and intellectually. Accepting the ways of nature as indifferent allows for the men to focus on their own human responsibilities to ensure survival. In the end it is learned that anything could have happened while at sea and from the knowledge absorbed about an indifferent nature, they can now value more important experiences.

Cite this page

A Glimpse of the Power of Nature in Stephen Crane's The Open Boat. (2023, May 14). Retrieved from https://paperap.com/a-glimpse-of-the-power-of-nature-in-stephen-crane-s-the-open-boat/

Let’s chat?  We're online 24/7