The Open Boat

by: Stephen Crane

Important Quotations Explained

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.