Indifference to Anxiety in Crane's The Open Boat Essay

2607 Words 11 Pages
Indifference to Anxiety in Crane's The Open Boat

In recent years, critical response to Stephen Crane's The Open Boat has shifted dramatically, focusing less on the tale's philosophical agendas than on its epistemological implications. The story no longer stands as merely a naturalistic depiction of nature's monumental indifference or as simply an existential affirmation of fife's absurdity. Instead, we have slowly come to realize a new level of the text, one that, according to Donna Gerstenberger, explores "man's limited capacities for knowing reality" (557). Gerstenberger's conclusion that the tale "may be best viewed as a story with an epistemological emphasis, one which constantly reminds its reader of the impossibility of
…show more content…
For our purposes, what is important is that the story begins by focusing on the crew's lack of knowledge. Certainly the crew "knows" other things: the color, the size, and the frequency of the waves for instance. Yet with this famous first sentence the narrator chooses to foreground the absence of knowledge, thus establishing an epistemological void, a looming unknown. Though the crew's remaining struggle at sea is as much a struggle for knowledge as it is for survival, the members of the crew do not here desire to fill the void created by the opening sentence: not only do they not know the color of the sky, they do not care. In fact, it does not matter whether they know the color of the sky, for "they knew it was broad day because the color of the sea changed from slate to emerald-green streaked with amber lights, and the foam was like tumbling snow" (70).

We should note as well that nowhere in Section l of "The Open Boat" does the reader discover the color of the sky. In this sense, the reader is like the crew --- neither of them knows about the sky. Arid, in
Open Document