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basswood

basswood

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The Open Boat - Stephen Crane I read Crane's "Red Badge of Courage" while in high school and without ever giving it a second thought over the years I've always recommended it highly to anyone who's ever asked. But after reading "The Open Boat," it seems I'd forgotten exactly how powerful a writer Crane really was.

I've never quite shared in the ultimate philosophy of writers like London, Conrad, and Crane yet they perpetually rank among my favorites, mainly I think, because the masculine vocabulary and narrative of "naturalist" deism (and sometimes atheism) speaks so well to those like myself who are or have been in constant contact with the dangers of outdoor life and work; those who know that their fate rests primarily in their own hands; those who know that one slip-up could cost them not simply their daily meal but their very lives. The "naturalist" relies upon the observation that although there may be a "grand architect" behind all that we see in this world, he/she/it is indifferent to our cares. It is not an agnosticism, but really that the idea that revelation, miracles, or any type of divine relationship between man and his creator is nonexistant. It is the belief that in nature, we are at the mercy only of our own abilities. How Crane came to hold such views, especially at such a young age, I can't comprehend, yet they are very evident in "The Open Boat" and it makes for extraordinarily beautiful though lonely sentiment:

"...During this dismal night, it may be remarked that a man would conclude that it was really the intention of the seven mad gods to drown him, despite the abominable injustice of it. For it was certainly an abominable injustice to drown a man who had worked so hard, so hard. The man felt it would be a crime most unnatural. Other people had drowned at sea since galleys swarmed with painted sails, but still --

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. Any visible expression of nature would surely be pelleted with his jeers.

Then, if there be no tangible thing to hoot he feels, perhaps, the desire to confront a personification and indulge in pleas, bowed to one knee, and with hands supplicant, saying: "Yes, but I love myself."

A high cold star on a winter's night is the word he feels that she says to him. Thereafter he knows the pathos of his situation..."


Crane does not entirely discount that miracles happen, just that they are rather rare natural turns of luck that few men are fortunate to witness or partake in. Near the end of the story, when rescue is at hand, a wave carries the "correspondent" over the capsized boat, he makes it a point to call this "a miracle of the sea."

However, Crane does give some hope in the story that even if we are at the mercy of nature, we are still worthy of survival because in the end we are capable of saving each other. For there are men, like the captain in the dinghy, that can still exhibit a duty toward other men as regards their cold station in life, and he paints a near messianic picture of his selflessness as he stood in the water with "a halo on his head" and shining "like a saint."

I never did nor will I agree with the basis of deism/naturalism but it makes for incredible literature. 4.5 stars and another look at Stephen Crane.