Humanity tends to see itself as being somewhat important in the grand scheme of the Universe. We speak of “fate” as if we were put here for some reason, or purpose. We have our religions, which often serve as an engine to drive our lives and as a means to give meaning to them. But why do we think of ourselves in such a superior fashion? Would the Universe stop if we were suddenly taken away? In his short story, “The Open Boat,” Stephen Crane shows us a Universe totally unconcerned with the affairs of humankind; it is an indifferent Universe in which Man has to struggle to survive.
The characters in the story come face to face with this indifference and are nearly overcome by Nature’s lack of concern. 1 In a similar account, my family was faced with the same Universe and the damage that can be done without compassion. We were faced with a fight for our lives, and the battle was a tough one. 2 My family, like the characters in the story only survived through persistence and cooperation. Crane said it best when he wrote, in our constant struggle for survival, all we have is, “stubborn prideand each other. ” 1
Stephen Crane’s “The Open Boat” gives us a dose of reality that at first seems bitter, but it gradually induces a catharsis and in the end stands as testament to the human spirit. His claim that the Universe will never bend to the will of man is outweighed by his reassurances that we will always have each other. And when we contemplate “a high cold star on a winter’s night”1 we will not need to feel alone, because we can always turn to another person. I learned this through my own personal struggle, but I was not alone, my family went through the same storm, and we survived together. 2
My family was resting peacefully in their beds Thursday, September 21, 1989, the night that Hurricane Hugo struck the South Carolina coast. Earlier in the evening my father kissed us goodbye and went to work the night shift at his job. My grandparents had come to our house because they were staying at Myrtle Beach for vacation and the coast had been evacuated in preparation for the storm. We lived in Columbia, which was centrally located in the state, so we thought that we were out of harms way. When Hugo met with South Carolina, it brought winds that reached 140 mph and 20 ft waves to the coast.
At three o’clock in the morning, I heard a crash that was so loud my insides felt shaken. I heard screams, and for a moment I couldn’t tell if it was my family or the wind, and the stench of pine was so thick that I was gagging. I quickly looked to the bed under me to make sure my brother was ok, and then I feared the fate of the rest of my family. My mother was in the room adjacent to ours, the same room that the crash came from. Everything happened so fast. My mother came in, and without saying a word, she picked us both up and took us to the living room.
On our way to the “meeting spot,” by the light of the flashlight we were carrying, I saw pine needles all over the floor, looked up, and saw the sky. I heard the hurricane laughing at us with its green face, and I could feel the rage. I was afraid, I was afraid because my father had left earlier in the night to go to work, and I still hadn’t seen my grandparents. When we found that we were all there, we quickly came up with a plan. Our decision was to go to a near by shelter because the roof of our house had ripped off. The tree had fallen in every room of the house except the two that were inhabited by people.
I felt like God was with us, but the storm was raging against us. The winds were much too horrific to leave so we had to wait for the eye of the storm. I was scared, and full of anger. While we were driving down the road we saw trees and power lines down, and I could feel our car being blown around like the little boat in the story. My mother had to hold me down because I was so light that the winds picked me up off the ground. I thought we were all going to die and fall victim to this uncaring storm. My mom took control, like the captain, and drove us to safety.
We all relied on each other more than we ever had. The five of us that had survived this event became closer than ever. Our fate had been tested, but we knew that the fight for survival without a home would be worse than the storm itself. We got to the shelter and slept on the floor with hundreds of other people who had found themselves homeless against Hugo. My family fortunately survived, but there were many lives lost to this storm. 2 In “The Open Boat,” the story opens with four men, known simply as the captain, the oiler, the correspondent, and the cook, stranded in the ocean in a small boat.
Crane’s descriptions in these opening scenes immediately show the antagonism of the men and the sea and nature’s lack of concern for their tragedy: “The birds sat comfortably in groups, and they were envied by some in the dingy, for the wrath of the sea was no more to them than it was to a covey of prairie chickens a thousand miles inland. ” 1 The men are in a desperate situation, but nature continues in its ways regardless of what might happen to them. The men in the story reacted to the storm similar to that of the men in another real life story about survival.
This proves even more that Stephen Cranes depiction was an accurate on. 4 The Sun continues to rise and set everyday. The shore is “lonely and indifferent. ” 1 They are even regarded by a shark, who apparently finds no use for them. The men, however, seem removed from the clockwork of their surroundings; separate, but somehow in the midst of everything happening around them. This indifference causes the men to feel isolated from nature. They even go as far as to think of the Universe as being hostile: “[The waves were] nervously anxious to do something effective in the way of swamping boats.
This is, however, just normal activity of nature, not any act of aggression against Man. 1 Although the men are pitted against an uncaring sea, at this point they still seem to think their destinies are controlled by some outside force. Their collective thoughts are given: “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 the sea, was I allowed to come thus far and contemplate sand and trees?…
If this old ninny-woman, Fate, cannot do better than this, she should be deprived of the management of men’s fortunes. ” It soon dawns on them, though, that there is no “fate,” no purpose for their being where they are. It is the realization of this fact that brings the men to the brink of despair: “When it occurs to a man that nature does not regard him as important, he at first wishes to throw bricks at the temple, and he hates deeply the fact that there are no bricks and no temples. ” 1 It seems to them that their situation is hopeless.
At one point, one of the men asks the captain if he thinks they will make it, to which the captain replies “If this wind holds and the boat don’t swamp, we can’t do much else. ” Statements like these, along with Crane’s journalistic prose, show the futility that the men feel in the face of indifference, yet it also shows the fact that there is still hope. 1 What can Man do when faced with a Universe that has no sympathy for him? How can we survive alone against nature? As the characters in the story come to realize, our only hope is in our sympathy and concern for other human beings.
Stephen Crane made a very accurate depiction of the psychology of survivors. Similar to my real life situation, our fate was tested, we looked at the ruins of our home and our past life with hatred for Mother Nature. 1 The fact is most fully realized in the character of the correspondent. Crane tells us that he had been taught to be cynical of men, but his shared tragedy with the other three men on the boat forced him to form a friendship that goes beyond mere associations. My father wasn’t present for the part of the night when the tree fell on our home, and this drove a wedge in my family.
As Crane tells us, “there was this comradeship that the correspondent, for instance, who had been taught to be cynical of men, knew even at the time was the best experience of his life. ” 1 A change is undergone when he and the other men realize that all they have is each other. The correspondent, recalling a childhood verse, feels sympathy for a dying soldier, one who does not even exist: “The correspondent, plying the oars and dreaming of the slow and slower movements of the lips of the soldier, was moved by a profound and perfectly impersonal comprehension.
He was sorry for the soldier of the Legion who lay dying in Algiers. ” 1 Being in his current situation, the correspondent can finally understand the tragedy of the dying soldier. He knows what it is like to be alone in a cruel world, and more importantly, he realizes he doesn’t have to be alone. “It was no longer merely a picture of a few throes in the breast of a poet, meanwhile drinking tea and warming his feet at the grate; it was an actuality–stern, mournful, and fine.
He now understands what it is to be human: that constant striving in the face of futility, and that need for others that ultimately none of us can deny. Crane depicted in this in a way that hit home when I read it. I depend a great deal on my family, and I think it is because a bond was formed on that night that my life got sucked into the eye of the storm that they called Hurricane Hugo. I went through all of the emotions that the men in the boat did, but in the end, I proudly wore the shirt that said, “Hugo blew me, but I survived. Stephen Crane’s “The Open Boat” gives us a dose of reality that at first seems bitter, but it gradually induces a catharsis and in the end stands as testament to the human spirit. 1 His claim that the Universe will never bend to the will of man is outweighed by his reassurances that we will always have each other. And when we contemplate “a high cold star on a winter’s night”1 we will not need to feel alone, because we can always turn to another person.