"The Open Boat" may have been based on Crane's real-life experience but it also functions as symbolic "of man's battle against the malevolent, indifferent, and unpredictable forces of nature…This reading is confirmed by the final irony of the death of the oiler, physically the strongest man on the scene and the one most favored to withstand the ordeal" (Rath & Shaw 97). The futility of resisting the power nature with human strength is illustrated by his death. "To some critics such a battle offers a growth experience: it either allows us existentially to know our place in the universe as we realize 'the absurdity of [our] experience' and of 'the human condition,' or it forces us to acknowledge the 'impossibility of man's knowledge'" of his fate (Rath & Shaw 97).
Crane's journalistic bent primarily reveals itself in what has been called an 'intense pressure to see,' as he fights to observe as well as to stay alive both as a participant and as a narrator on "The Open Boat." His stories all "center on an 'event of seeing.' An 'intense pressure to see' is Crane's most typical narrative posture, more so than an obsession with realism (and why impressionism rather than naturalism may be an even better term for Crane's works (Stronks 328). "A character's process or act of 'apprehension' becomes Crane's metaphor for understanding, awareness, wisdom" (Stronks 328). Even in his less overtly symbolic stories such as The Blue Hotel, there is an emphasis on description as a revelation of character. The Blue Hotel has the same concentrated atmosphere as The Open Boat, as it is set in a claustrophobically small Western town in Nebraska, in which five men are trapped for the winter. "It is Crane's use of figurative language that raises the story to the level of art - his use of description to weave a tapestry of words whose pattern becomes a multi-colored, three-dimensional Rorschach ink blot in whose symbolic shapes the reader can discern the outlines of his own fears conjured up by his subconscious in nightmare dreams" (Peirce 160).
The focus on the card game as the center of the story, and the prospect of cheating highlight the importance of careful observation and seeing: "Crane's use of ocular references in The Blue Hotel strongly supports his story's structure...
The story turns, for the most part, on what the characters do or do not perceive and on what they think they perceive. The world of The Blue Hotel is in the eye of the characters as beholders" (Cate 150). However, the characters five men do not have the blatantly symbolic eternal, nature of the correspondent and his fellow crewmen. The fact that their foolish actions result in the tragic end of the tale, rather than the actions of fate, suggest more of a complex lesson about life, than a clearly illustrated tale with a moral. One cannot get a lesson from "The Open Boat" that it is bad to be strong, like the oiler, or to try to stay alive, but the recklessness of the gamblers and the Swede's prejudices towards the Westerners he encounters upon his adventures does function as a life lesson of how not to behave.
Unlike the men of "The Open Boat," the characters of The Blue Hotel are not literally or figuratively capsized by fate, but by their own folly. "The Swede undergoes a change -- from fearful to domineering, from coward to bully. Because of the myths about the West that he has read in too many dime novels, he apparently believes that violence and death are the way of life anywhere west of New York. But his change is as poorly motivated as is his fear. The few drinks he has with Scully and the pictures that Scully shows him of his dead daughter and lawyer son hardly seem motivation enough. And surely the whisky's effect on him would have worn off long before the quarrel and the fight" (Pierce 162). He is determined to impose his will upon others, and this attempt to do so will prove his downfall.
The end of the story depicts an ironic end for the Swede, stressing his failure of sight and powers of observation in a game based upon a quick eye: "The Swede meets his end at the point of the gambler's knife. In death his eyes are fixed upon the cash register legend, "This registers the amount of your purchase" (Cate 152). Had the Swede observed with greater care and deliberation, Crane suggests, he would not have met with such a fate.
In "The Open Boat," the environment rather than the individual characters have power over the fates of the different actors; this is the moral of Crane's tale, a moral that he teaches both himself and the reader as he stands as 'the correspondent.' In The Blue Hotel, he functions more as a teacher, showing with his characters the lessons they must learn that go far deeper than the randomness of cards: namely the need to observe more closely, and to have one's morals fixated on something beyond winning and losing, and the almighty dollar. The rhetorical irony is 'ironically' more obvious in the longer and more complex narrative of The Blue Hotel, while the often deceptively simple fable "The Open Boat" keeps the reader guessing as to which 'Crane' is really speaking.
Crane, Stephen. The Blue Hotel. July 17, 2009.
Crane, Stephen. Maggie: A Girl of the Streets. Kessinger Publishing, 2004.
Crane, Stephen. "The Open Boat." Scribner's Magazine 21 (May 1894): 728-740.
Crane, Stephen. The Red Badge of Courage. Project Gutenberg edition.
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Colvert, James B. "Limitations of Perspective in the Fiction of Stephen Crane." Stephen Crane
Studies 15.1 (2006): 6-8.
"Stephen Crane's 'The Open Boat.'" ED Sitement. The National Endowment for the Humanities
(NEH). 2006. July 17, 2009. http://edsitement.neh.gov/view_lesson_plan.asp?id=649
Peirce, J.F. "Stephen Crane's Use of Figurative Language in "The Blue Hotel." The South
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Rath, Sura P. & Neff Shaw. "The dialogic narrative of 'The Open Boat.'"College Literature.
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Vanouse, Donald Stephen Crane (1871-1900). July 17, 2009.
Stephen Crane: A Great Writer of American Naturalist Fiction and Non-Fiction, and of Local Color Stephen Crane (1871-1900) was an American author of the late 19th century, whose work, in terms of style and sub-genre, was somewhere between American Romanticism and American Naturalism (with some American Realism added). Crane wrote at the end of a century (the 19th), a time when several literary styles and genres are typically blended together until
The Swede may have been a trouble maker, but he was right about his accusations. He had to grab the gambler at the saloon, because the gambler was already destined to act. They were all part of an 'act' in a play that was already rehearsed and going to be performed like it or not. The other passage in the story that is very telling is: One viewed the existence of
Stephen Crane's story "The Open Boat" is a masterful example of Naturalistic storytelling that evokes the characters of four men stranded on a small boat as well as character of the sea itself. By the end of this long short story, despite the fact that Crane has provided us with only the most elliptical clues about these four men, we have came to understand a great deal about their characters.
Stephen Crane's novella, Maggie: A Girl of the Streets, was written during America's "Gilded Age" which was the era from the end of the Civil War to the turn of the Century. The name was given to the period by Mark Twain and Charles Dudley Warner, who poked fun at the period for its rampant corruption. During this essential time of American development, New Yorker's were categorized into two different
If this old ninny-woman, Fate, cannot do better than this, she should be deprived of the management of men's fortunes. She is an old hen who knows not her intentions. If she has decided to drown me, why did she not do it in the beginning and save me all this trouble. The whole affair is absurd...But no, she cannot mean to drown me. She dare not drown me.
The proprietor, Scully, is unable to calm the Swede down, unsuccessfully, and the Swede makes an ominous prediction. "I know I won't get out of here alive," he says. Scully attempts to lay the blame at his son Johnnie's feet, but the Swede will not be swayed. "I will leave this house. I will go away, because I do not wish to be killed. Yes, of course, I am crazy