Stephen Crane's "The Open Book": Cosmic Irony

by: Sarah Clauer

Stephen Crane's "The Open Boat," is thought to be one of the finest stories
ever written by an American. Crane uses a theme of cosmic irony. Cosmic irony
is the belief that the universe is so large and man is so small that the
universe is indifferent to the plight of man. In "The Open Boat," Crane's theme,
cosmic irony, is illustrated through the use of symbols for isolation,
insignificance, and indifference. Three specific examples of cosmic irony
symbolism used by Crane are, the power of the ocean against the insignificance
of the boat, the sea against the universe, and the little boat in a vast sea
from the people on the shore.
The indifference aspect of cosmic irony is where things serve no purpose,
and there is truly no care for anyone or anything. In "The Open Boat," the
power of the ocean against the insignificance of the boat, is a prime example of
indifference used by Crane. The universe is represented by the power of the
ocean, and the small boat in this ocean is symbolic of man in this giant
universe. The immaculate power of the ocean is very indifferent to the small
boat, just as our great universe could not care less for man.
Insignificance is described as being a lack of importance. Those little
things that are insignificant mean nothing to the universe. In "The Open Boat,"
the sea against the universe is symbolic of insignificance in cosmic irony. The
sea represents something which seems very large to mankind, but is actually very
insignificant in comprison to the universe. The universe would still go on
without that sea, just like the universe would still go on without mankind.
The third form of symbolism in cosmic irony is isolation. Isolation is
being held in captivity or lack of contact with the world or universe. The
little boat in a vast sea versus the people on the shore is symbolic of
isolation. The small boal seems so large and important to the people on it,
while the people on the shore just see this small boat as one of many objects in
that vast sea. This is prime example of man versus society.
The belief of cosmic irony holds great significance in the writers of the
time of Stephen Crane. The new philosophies portrayed in cosmic irony were so
new and different. They taught a different approach to the way the reader
interprets certain symbols. Cosmic irony is a theme which is used every day,
even though it may not always be noticed.

Category: Philosophy