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A Great Work From Stephen Crane
The book was based on Crane's experience of surviving a shipwreck off the coast of Florida earlier that year while traveling to Cuba to work as a newspaper correspondent. Crane was stranded at sea for thirty hours when his ship, the SS Commodore, sank after hitting a sandbar. He and three other men were forced to navigate their way to shore in a small boat; one of the men, an oiler named Billie Higgins, drowned after the boat overturned. Crane's personal account of the shipwreck and the men's survival, titled "Stephen Crane's Own Story," was first published a few days after his rescue.
The book is divided into seven sections, each told mainly from the point of view of the correspondent, based upon Crane himself. The first part introduces the four characters-the correspondent, a condescending observer detached from the rest of the group; the captain, who is injured and morose at having lost his ship, yet capable of leadership; the cook, fat and comical, but optimistic that they will be rescued; and the oiler, Billie, who is physically the strongest, and the only one in the story referred to by name. The four are survivors of a shipwreck, which occurred before the beginning of the story, and are drifting at sea in a small dinghy.
In the following four sections, the moods of the men fluctuate from anger at their desperate situation, to a growing empathy for one another and the sudden realization that nature is indifferent to their fates.
The final chapter begins with the men's resolution to abandon the floundering dinghy they have occupied for thirty hours and to swim ashore. As they begin the long swim to the beach, Billie the oiler, the strongest of the four, swims ahead of the others; the captain advances towards the shore while still holding onto the boat, and the cook uses a surviving oar. The correspondent is trapped by a local current, but is eventually able to swim on. After three of the men safely reach the shore and are met by a group of rescuers, they find Billie dead, his body washed up on the beach.
The Open Boat is an intriguing short story by Stephen Crane that recognizes man's relationship to nature. This story portrays nature in sharp contrast to the romanticism of early American Romantic writers, who viewed nature as there nurturing mother.
From the Book:
None of them knew the color of the sky. Their eyes glanced level, and were fastened upon the waves that swept toward them. These waves were of the hue of slate, save for the tops, which were of foaming white, and all of the men knew the colors of the sea. The horizon narrowed and widened, and dipped and rose, and at all times its edge was jagged with waves that seemed thrust up in points like rocks.
Facts and Trivia 1. After Crane's premature death from tuberculosis at the age of 28, his work enjoyed a resurgence of popularity. Author and critic Elbert Hubbard wrote in Crane's obituary in the Philistine that "The Open Boat" was "the sternest, creepiest bit of realism ever penned"
2. Another of the author's friends, H. G. Wells, wrote that "The Open Boat" was "beyond all question, the crown of all [Crane's] work."
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