Stephen Crane\'s "The Open Book": Determinism, Objectivity, and Pessimism


In Stephen Crane\'s short story “The Open Boat”, the American literary
school of naturalism is used and three of the eight features are most apparent,
making this work, in my opinion, a good example of the school of naturalism.
These three of the eight features are determinism, objectivity, and pessimism.
They show, some more than others, how Stephen Crane viewed the world and the
environment around him.
Determinism is of course the most obvious of the three features.
Throughout the entire story, the reader gets a sense that the fate of the four
main characters, the cook, the oiler, the correspondent, and the captain are
totally pre-determined by nature and that they were not their own moral agents. “
The little boat, lifted by each towering sea and splashed viciously by the
crests, made progress that in the absence of seaweed was not apparent to those
in her.” The characters had no control over their boat, rather nature was
totally in control. “She seemed just a wee thing wallowing, miraculously top up,
at the mercy of the five oceans. Occasionally a great spread of water, like
white flames, swarmed into her.” (pg.145) There is also a sense that man is
totally not important to the natural forces controlling his fate. “When it
occurs to 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 that there are no bricks and no
temples.”(pg156) The one character who perishes, the oiler, is of course a
victim of determinism. Even as he was so close to land and no longer out in the
open sea, nature still takes its role in determining his fate.
Objectivity refers to how the author describes reality as it exists,
that is, not glorifying something, but rather simply stating the observation.
The fact that the narrator is the correspondent in itself give an impression on
how the story is going to be told in a more journalistic sense, describing
actual events instead of feelings or ideas. “ In the meantime the oiler and the
correspondent rowed. They sat together in the same seat, and each rowed an oar.
Then the oiler took both oars; then the correspondent took both oars; then the
oiler; then the correspondent. They rowed and they rowed.” (pg144) Writing
something repeatedly in the manner Crane does in this passage gives the reader a
sense of the repetitiveness and frustration the four main characters faced being
lost out at sea.
Pessimism, in my opinion, is apparent throughout the entire story.
Although the four men do have the will to survive, it always seems as if nature
is always playing the most important role. “ 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.” This passage is said not once, but twice in the short story,
strengthening the fact that a sense of pessimism is present throughout the story
while also expressing the anger the characters feel toward the ever present fate
of nature.
The entire story in itself is a portrayal not of the conflict between
man and nature, but rather the effect and control nature has on human fate,
strengthening the naturalistic ideas and views through this tale of four
stranded men. The fact that the waves, the tides, the freezing water and all the
other characteristics of the controlling force are ever present, make, in my
opinion, the sea the most important character in “The Open Boat”, the four men
are just the way in which this is brought through to the reader.

Category: English