Open Boat Naturalism
Stephen Crane’s, “The Open Boat”, exemplifies many characteristics of naturalism, a literary movement in the late 19th century into the early 20th century, that was an outgrowth of realism and was heavily influenced by Charles Darwin’s theory of evolution which “held that a human being belongs entirely in the order of nature and does not have a soul or any other mode of participation in a religious or spiritual world beyond nature and therefore is merely a higher-order animal whose character and fortunes are determined by two kinds of forces, heredity and environment”(Abrams 152).
The first line in “The Open Boat” already depicts man’s lower animal like instinct to survive as Crane describes the men as “none of them knew the color of the sky - Open Boat Naturalism introduction. Their eyes glanced level and where fastened upon the waves that swept toward them…and all of the men knew the colors of the sea”(Charters 271). Right away Crane brings the attention of the reader down to earth and to man’s basic animal nature and concentration on survival. Even though man who is considered a “higher order of animals” has no time for leisure and contemplation when placed in the cruel indifferent environment of nature.
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Crane also clearly touches on man’s place in the order of nature as he describes, “when it occurs to a man that nature does not regard him as important, and that she feels she would not maim the universe by disposing of him, he at first wishes to throw bricks at the temple, and he hates deeply the fact that there are no bricks and no temples”(Charters 282). Additionally, the role of chance, in Darwin’s theory, also plays a large role in shaping individuals destiny and from this naturalism focuses on the reality that man’s fate is determined by facets other then man’s free will.
In “The Open Boat” although the four men put all of their strength and will power into surviving and rowing the boat they repeat over and over, “If I am going to be drowned-if I am going to be drowned-if I am going to be drowned, why, in the name of the seven mad gods who rule at the sea, was I allowed to come thus far and contemplate sand and trees”(Charters 282)? No matter how much energy the men put into their effort to survive and no matter how far they get to actually surviving, there is a realization that fate is out of their hands and into the hands of something much larger than themselves.
Even the oiler, who Crane depicts as a wily surf man” with “fast and steady oarsman ship”(Charters 277), which leaves the reader to believe him the strongest among them, ends up in the end “in the shallows, face downward”(Charters 288), as opposed to the captain, who Crane describes as injured and hurt, ends up surviving. Another characteristic of naturalism is that the author, like a scientist, is an objective observer often in the third person or omniscient. Stephen Crane himself said that “My chief desire was to write plainly and unmistakenly so all men might read and understand”(Greensfield 562).
Crane does not describe the men as heroic survivors either or embellish any of their traits, but throughout the story he takes a more distanced tone as he describes the characters, who also represent yet another aspect of naturism, being men of the working and lower middle class. Additionally, in naturalism, authors depict environments that are harsh and over powering where natural forces could lead characters to fight for their survival against inevitable injury or death. Crane describes the ocean waves as “a hue of slate” that were “foaming white” at the top and “thrust up in points like rocks”(Charters 271).
Crane goes on to describe that “a seat in this boat was not unlike a seat upon a bucking bronco” on a boat that “plunged like an animal”(Charters 271). Additionally Crane describes, “a singular disadvantage of the sea lies in the fact that after successfully surmounting one wave you discover that there is another behind it just as important and just as enviously effective to do something in the way of swamping boats”(Charters 272). It is very clear by Crane’s descriptions that the ocean is a harsh environment ready to take the life of the helpless men at any second.