Essay about Symbolism and Devices in Stephen Crane's The Open Boat

1930 Words 8 Pages
An Examination of Symbolism and Devices in The Open Boat

The struggle for survival by mankind can be found in many different settings. It can be seen on a battlefield, a hospital room or at sea as related in “The Open Boat”, written in 1897 by Stephen Crane. The story is based on his actual experiences when he survived the sinking of the SS Commodore off the coast of Florida in early 1897. “The Open Boat” is Stephen Crane’s account of life and death at sea told through the use of themes and devices to emphasize the indifference of nature to man’s struggles and the development of mankind’s compassion.

The story’s theme is related to the reader by the use of color imagery, cynicism, human brotherhood, and the
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The first paragraph of the story is used by Crane to begin to build his story of Nature’s indifference to mankind and mentions or alludes to the waves of the sea multiple times. Looking out from the small boat there are always the waves; the horizon narrows and widens, dips and rises; “at all times its edge...jagged with waves that seem thrust up in points like rocks”; each wave top is “a problem in small boat navigation.” Nature, at her most unpleasant, allows the men a glimpse of the shore, reminds them of her indifferent strength as if they needed to be reminded. Hagemann suggests that this is Crane’s first attempt to introduce his interpretation of Naturalism into the story through the use of imagery and symbolism (Another Look at “The Open Boat” 70).

The second section of the story relates the oscillation of the survivors between hope and despair with Crane carefully introducing each element of the plot. The imagery of the wind as an embodiment of Nature toys with the survivors and their optimism. If the onshore wind holds then they will likely survive and if it fails then Nature has indiscriminately taken their lives from them. The sight of the lighthouse appearing on the horizon cheers the survivors but the sounds of
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