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Free «The Open Boat by Stephen Crane» Essay Sample

In the story, The Open Boat, the oiler by name Billie, is portrayed as a strong and industrious man working hard to rescue the dinghy. The struggle the four engage seems to be against the fury and ruthlessness of nature. Billie uses his physical might to rescue the rest of his colleagues. Billie’s death can be said to have been foreshadowed, as he tries to fight for his endurance in opposition to the forces of the sea environment. When the cook asserts that there are rescuers who could save their lives, the oiler is first and candid to say, “We're not there yet” (Crane 8). This statement suggests clearly that the oiler had no hope they would survive. Billie is quick to tell the cook that they are not near the house of refuge nor the life saving station. Such instances in the story only confirm the fact that oiler’s death was foreshadowed. Despite the oiler having inadequate sleep and having eaten insufficient food, he was working hard, and it was apparent that he will wear out at some point. The phrase “If I am going to be drowned…why…was I allowed to come thus far?” (Crane 36), which is repeated severally in the story by the correspondent was not attributed to any of the four, when Billie dies, it appears the phrase was being attributed to him.



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At the dawn of the last day, the four men in the boat resolve to swim across to the ashore. Whereas the ship’s master, cook and the stringer hold onto the boat and swim towards the ashore, Billie opts to swim ahead of them. However, despite his physical strength, Billie succumbs to nature’s fury, and they find him laying dead at the shore. It is noteworthy that his strength could not outdo nature’s ruthlessness. The oiler worked a double shift the night before and was therefore tired, weak, hungry, sleepy, wet, and afraid. Therefore, it was apparent that his chances of survival were minimal.


Whereas the correspondent had learnt that he should always be pessimistic of other men, the ordeal he was going through taught him the art of acknowledging other people. In section three of the story, the correspondent accredits the cooperation that is evident amongst the four of them. As he says, “IT would be difficult to describe the subtle brotherhood of men that was here established on the seas” (Crane 32). The correspondent is quick to mention the four people in the ship working as brothers in unison. The captain would not command, but would talk in a calm and soft voice to the other men. They were devoted, ready, and dedicated to save their lives, as well as, that of the captain who was injured. The comradeship existing amongst these men made the correspondent to describe this time as the best in his life.

The correspondent asserts that apart from the team’s dedication to save their lives, they had a personal heartfelt spirit for each other. The hard work demonstrated by the other members and the loyalty to the captain convinced the correspondent that the other teammates shared similar feelings. Though the cook, captain, and the oiler never expressed their feelings verbally, the correspondent believed they were all friends. In a statement, the correspondent says “and they were friends, friends in a more curiously iron-bound degree than may be common” (Crane 35). The ship’s master was concerned about the cook and the correspondent, and went an extra mile to give out his overcoat to be used on the ore for them to relax. The cooperation between the correspondent and the oiler demonstrates a spirit of goodwill for people with one objective, their safety. The feelings held by these men are never verbalized. It is evident that the four men had one mission in mind, to rescue themselves. The men knew they had little energy and talking over their danger would only aggravate the fear. It was therefore fundamental to hold back their feelings and focus on saving their lives.

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Among the themes is the nature’s fury towards humanity. In the late ninetieth century, Americans held the belief that they would control and conquer natural forces with the advancing technology. However, in the story The Open Boat, the four men appear to succumb to the forces of nature. The relationship between them and the wind, waves, and the currents is fatal. Their efforts seem to bear no fruits and the correspondent is furious that they might be drowned despite their efforts to conquer the forces of nature. This statement, “None of them knew the color of the sky” (Crane 1), which is the opening remark of the story, clearly sets the unfavorable relationship between the men, and nature. The men are angered by the forces of nature, which do not give them any chance to rest. The men do not want to come to the reality that they cannot compete with natural forces. This feeling however changes towards the end when they decide to swim to the ashore by holding onto the boat to avoid being swept by the waves.

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The reflection of the soldier in Algiers is significant in the story as the correspondent remembers how the soldier lied there with no help. As he states, “A soldier of the Legion lay dying in Algiers, There was lack of woman's nursing, there was dearth of woman's tears” (crane 74). This story reminded him of their situation. They were in a situation where they had no help, and their greatest fear was death, which seemed so prudent. The ordeal they were going through made him sympathetic and he pitied the soldier. It is evident that he now understands the problem and the hopelessness the soldier was going through. While reading the story, one cannot help but sympathize with these men. It is clear that despite their unity and cooperation, nature is out to destroy them.


The three men who survive the ordeal are quick to say they can look back and interpret what happened. However, it is evident that the men can only interpret what happened based on their limited view, but will not appreciate the true quality of reality. The three men have experienced the fury of the sea nature and have a special understanding of its ruthlessness. However, it should be noted that their understanding is limited to their perspective. The men are meant to interpret the message delivered by the sounds made by the sea. This is seen in the final statement of the narrative “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”(Crane 87).

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When the story ends, it is not clear how Billie died, but only his death is mentioned. The story also ends without clearly pointing out why they were never helped by the people at the shore. The author decides to end the story without mentioning the death of Billie to conceal the grief that comes with it. The author was aware of the forgetful nature of humankind and knew that soon they would forget Billie’s death. He also does not tell of the interpretation that they had. This described in his statement “and they felt that they could then be interpreters” (Crane 98).


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