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A Reader-Response to Crane’s ‘The Open Boat’ Essay

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Updated: Mar 13th, 2019

The Open Boat begins with four men battling for their life in a lifeboat at a sea. ”These waves were of the hues of slate, save for the tops, which were foaming white and all of the men knew the colors of the sea” (Crane, p. 1). It is dark because they cannot recognize the color of the sky.

The four occupants of the boat are survivors of a shipwreck. Each occupant has unique features. There is a cook boiling out water from the bottom of the boat. The oiler, who is the strongest of them all, is rowing with one oar. He is obviously an experienced seaman from his mastery of the sea. Also, on board is an unnamed correspondent who is not a seaman as he keeps questioning himself trying to understand predicament (p. 1).

The fourth occupant is their captain, injured and lying at the bow of the boat. They are optimistic that the other occupants of their wrecked ship have probably gone to seek help for them (p. 1). They row hoping to come across a lighthouse or a house of refuge. After a while, they spot a lighthouse and their spirits are lifted, but not for long as they see no signs of human life, “the light heartedness of a former time had completely faded” (p. 4).

Their hopelessness is reflected in their exchange of addresses, just in case they do not make it to shore (p. 4). Not long, their hopes are raised again when they spot a man waving; what they thought was a flag, but turns out to be a man waving his coat at them because he thought they were fishermen (p. 4-5). This greatly annoys them adding to their helplessness.

After a while, they spot a tiny house on shore amid the dunes, but they find it odd that no one sees them. There is neither light nor hope. The only company they have is of a shark circling their boat. They do not share their thoughts but wonder why nature would let them die after they have tried so hard to stay alive. In the morning, the correspondent spots a watch fire, some houses and a windmill on the beach, but no sight of people.

The captain decides that they should make a break for it and turn the boat towards the shore, but nature is working against them. Therefore, they decide to abandon the boat and swim. The captain, the cook, and the correspondent use the boat as support, but the oiler swims ahead of them. When the three get ashore, the natives warmly welcome them, but sadly, the oiler was not so lucky.

This story is a recount of the author’s personal experience of surviving a shipwreck. The author was travelling to Cuba to work as a newspaper correspondent when his ship hit a sandbar and sank off the coast of Florida forcing him together with other three men to find their way ashore in a small boat.

It was a difficult journey that took them thirty hours, but eventually they got on shore even though one of them, an oiler, drowned. Soon after, Crane narrated their survival story in a report form that was first published as “Stephen Crane’s Own Story”, which later became the short story, “The Open Boat.”

This story is about survival, solidarity and conflict between man and nature. These elements come up in my life most often. The waves that kept rocking the men’s small boat are not just waves, but represent the obstacles that I face every day in life as I try to accomplish something. The captain’s character and mine are very similar.

I relate to the captain because he was the leader of his small crew just as I am the eldest in my family, hence a leader by birth. Despite the captain’s injuries, he was still able to give directions and provide moral support to his crew. In the same way, being the eldest, my siblings always look up to me for guidance and support.

Therefore, I have to be able to provide guidance and support to my siblings no matter what. Sometimes, it is hard as I am not that old, but I do not show my weaknesses since I have to remain strong always. Just as the captain could not let his injuries bar him from making his crew get ashore, I do not let my age bar me from providing leadership to my siblings.

As usual, life throws many curve balls our way, but challenges are there to make us strong and more courageous. It has proved to me that in times of trouble, there will always be solidarity. The waves that kept rocking the boat are the hardships we endure in our day-to-day life.

Financial “waves” are the ones that have hit us the hardest especially in these hard economic times. Prioritizing our needs is difficult, as this would mean that we have to deny ourselves luxuries like going to movies. Nevertheless, solidarity amongst ourselves is what helps us get through the rough waves. Solidarity is what kept these men alive, even though they lost one of them in the end.

As a young adult, I have learned that parents will go to any length to support their children. I have developed into a very responsible adult because of having to provide guidance to my siblings. I feel that many people can relate to The Open Boat as each one of us is always attacked by different kinds of “waves” each day. The biggest challenge is overcoming these “waves” without losing anything, be it your dignity or loved ones.

Work Cited

Crane, Stephen. The Open Boat. New York: Doubleday and McClure, 1898. Print.

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IvyPanda. (2019, March 13). A Reader-Response to Crane’s ‘The Open Boat’. Retrieved from https://ivypanda.com/essays/a-reader-response-to-cranes-the-open-boat/

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"A Reader-Response to Crane’s ‘The Open Boat’." IvyPanda, 13 Mar. 2019, ivypanda.com/essays/a-reader-response-to-cranes-the-open-boat/.

1. IvyPanda. "A Reader-Response to Crane’s ‘The Open Boat’." March 13, 2019. https://ivypanda.com/essays/a-reader-response-to-cranes-the-open-boat/.


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IvyPanda. (2019) 'A Reader-Response to Crane’s ‘The Open Boat’'. 13 March.

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