The Open Boat by Stephen Crane is a novel that revolves more around the theme of Naturalism. This story revolves around four men hoping to reach a destination and trying to survive while doing so. Many think this is an examination of the man's relationship with the universe and each other as well. The men act and behave according to the situation around them and it is these factors that further influence their relationship with one another. Even though many argue that this book has its anti-romantic and realism characteristics, it is more inclined towards naturalism. There is more mention of nature and the interaction of man with it.
Before we get into the detail of discussing which theme or analysis the novel fits the most, it is crucial to have a good understanding of what both of these terms actually mean. Realism is basically the clear cut rejection of very heroic, exaggerated and romantic views of life. It totally goes against everyday descriptions and the characters are presented as normal people. Not only are the characters presented as normal people but also their issues are closer to what the average person would be facing. When talking about problems, it should be mentioned that Naturalism also talks about the problems of everyday people. However these people are usually far away from the norm. This could mean that these people are either very poor, immigrants, or usually banished from the social environment.
Naturalism on the other had a much more scientific and romantic view of the human life. If looked upon it after Darwin's theory, then naturalism could be seen as the survival of the fittest. This theme can then be applied to the social problems to people like poor farmers, people with labor problems or just political issues across the world. A naturalistic literature is usually conflicted internally; this could either mean problems with the social order or problems among the characters in the book. Basically what it states is that environmental, heredity and social problems tend to shape a person in a way that he or she cannot escape from. It talks about the tough time and the problems at people are having. Where realism basically goes on to describe the persons and how their life really is, naturalistic writing talks more about the problems and the troubles one would go through to have them resolved.
When we talk about different authors and the works they did, William Howell and Frank Norris come into the picture. Both the authors had entirely contrasting ways of writing and in their pieces one can really differentiate between the two concepts. Realism as written more by Howell goes on to talk about people and describing their lives. Even if the person and his or storey is not very interesting, it could be that the way author writes about it makes it seem very interesting. According to Norris, realism is talking more about the normal life. It is naturalism that is full of drama and goes on to teach the reader some important lessons.
If we look at this description of the people and their problems, it is obvious that in this story the people are far away from the actual society. They are stranded and under a lot of pressure in this situation. The way that they are hoping to survive this tough situation is heroic and thus it goes against the main theme mentioned in Realism. The persons face a lot of problems in the sea and thus confront nature as the main source of their problems. There is a quote in the book that talks about how nature does not regard man as a relevant thing. Nature wishes to throw bricks at the person and then comes a time that the person realizes that he or she doesn't have anything he could throw back at nature. (Crane) This idea revolves around the major theme of naturalism. The whole idea of naturalism is that man has to race through and try to survive all the problems that come his way. In this novel, the problems that the main characters faced were the cold water, the rough winds and lack of land where they could stop.
Romanticism is viewed as a story in which man and nature are in sync with each other. In other words, nature itself isn't destructing man in anyway. This story is definitely against that theme as throughout the story, nature is providing bad news to the four men traveling in the sea. The Darwinian theme survival of the fittest is linked to this because nature has engulfed these men quite tightly. Many would again argue that the death of the oiler went against the Darwinian link to this novel. Out of all the men, the oiler appeared as the strongest one. This is obvious when all the other characters like the correspondent, captain and the cook all depend on manmade or naturally available tools to help them through. It is oiler who relies on his ability to work harder and make it to the shore.
We already know that when a story is naturalistic, terrible things should happen to the character of the tale. The people who are in the book should be taken far away from the ordinary lives of the people. They should be engulfed in extreme drama and then strive to get out of those problems. This entire theme and characteristic of a naturalistic tale is depicted by the novel. First the characters are in a sea with nowhere to go. They don't have much accessories and no land in the nearby site. The presence of the birds and the guiles are observed as bad signs from the nature. Furthermore, when they do find out about the nearest shore, they are worried whether there would be people there or not. Let alone from people, it is also question that whether they would have enough supplies or tools for the men to be rescued. All these problems and hardships are faced by the men and they are resolved by the end of the story.
It is not everyday routine for four men to be trapped in a boat and having to battle for their lives.
Thus, this novel entirely goes against the major characteristic of a realistic novel. This whole story has a very pessimistic and negative feeling throughout the book. Some instances in the book such as when the men see the light house or when they see the man on the shore are indicative of a positive energy or of optimism. Other than that, all throughout the book it appears that the men are doomed for death and it very unlikely that they will survive. Determinism is yet another characteristic that is highlighted din this novel. This is basically that the individual him or herself does not have any power over his or her life. There is lack of free will and their actions and ultimate end will either be decided by nature of fate. A big storm in the sea could cause these men to drown or die. Even if they keep rowing and rowing form their free will, their ultimate destiny lies in the hands of fate or nature. This idea highlights determinism and in turn makes naturalism very prominent in the story.
Most of the naturalistic tales have the idea and concept tin them that nature is not affected by the struggles that humans make. This concept or theme is made very prominent by the certain quote sin the book. Earlier, it was mentioned how nature does not consider man important. Sea is a higher power that is not affected by how many men are rowing in it. Another important quote from the novel is when it is mentioned that…