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The Open Boat

Stephen Crane

Important Quotations Explained

Alternative Interpretations

How to Cite This SparkNote

1. 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 . . . . Thereafter he knows the pathos of his situation.

This passage, from the beginning of section VI, serves as a preface to the correspondent’s epiphany that the sea is a formless, voiceless phenomenon that lacks the consciousness he requires to validate his own existence. Until this point, the correspondent has thought of the sea, nature, and the universe as part of a higher power that intelligently governs the cosmos, a higher power against which he can define himself and through which find meaning in his own life. Instead, the correspondent finds out that he is nothing to the universe or God, who remains as distant and cryptic as “a high cold star.” In the absence of this power, the correspondent loses his identity. Crane creates a sense of irony by having the narrator personify nature. The narrator gives it human actions such as “regard” and “maim,” whereas he’s actually denying that nature has any humanlike consciousness. The irony inherent in Crane’s language in this passage suggests that he believes that man will always go on believing in something that he knows isn’t there.

2. This tower . . . represented . . . the serenity of nature amid the struggles of the individual—nature in the wind, and nature in the vision of men. She did not seem cruel to him then, nor beneficent, nor treacherous, nor wise . . . she was indifferent, flatly indifferent.

This passage, from the beginning of section VII, denies the distinction between reality and what man perceives as reality and supports the idea that nature is indifferent to man. Much as the narrator does in section I when describing the picturesque quality of the men in the dinghy when seen from afar, the correspondent uses a new, broad-picture perspective to remove himself from the hostility of his immediate surroundings and take in a larger picture of nature. His consideration of the giant, immovable wind tower in the distance opens him up to the reality that might exist outside himself or the “nature in the wind” that is separate from the “nature in the vision of men.” The main difference between these two natures is that whereas the former works inexplicably within the confines of itself, the latter depends on an intelligent higher power that directs nature’s affairs. The correspondent accepts the possibility of true objective reality, confessing that he is no longer certain that there is a benevolent, rational God at the center of the universe.

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