The Open Boat | Study Guide

Stephen Crane

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The Open Boat | Character Analysis


The Correspondent

The correspondent, whose reason for being on the ship is never explained in the story, is one of four men from the sunken steamship Commodore trying to make it to shore in a tiny lifeboat. He is also the one character whose unique perspective is revealed to the reader, so to some extent he literally does take on the role of reporter. Somewhat self-centered and a cynic by nature, the correspondent experiences tremendous personal growth and change during the ordeal. As one of only two able-bodied men in the dinghy, he shares the rowing duties with the oiler, both working to the point of total exhaustion. But even as he loses his strength and faces death, the correspondent is aware of and humbled by the powerful brotherhood that is established among the four men in the boat. He also becomes painfully aware of the indifference of the universe and the insignificance of humankind. Gradually he realizes that his life or death will barely be noticed.

The Captain

As viewed by the men in the lifeboat, the captain is the epitome of what a true leader and an honorable man should be. Although he mourns the loss of his ship and the sailors who drowned, he refuses to sink into despair. He knows that there are still three lives he is responsible for. He is intelligent and skilled, calmly analyzing and addressing every problem the men face during their ordeal at sea. He is also compassionate and utterly selfless. Despite the fact that he is injured, he puts the needs of his companions before his own, and looks after the men in the lifeboat as though they were his children. When the men eventually are forced to jump into the sea, the captain still keeps watch over the others: he advises the cook on how to more easily swim to shore, and calls to the correspondent to come to the ruins of the dinghy. Even during the final rescue, the captain sends the people on shore to help the cook and the correspondent before he will accept any aid himself.

Billie, the Oiler

Billie, the oiler, is without question the hardest working man in the lifeboat. Prior to the boat's sinking, he pulled two shifts in the engine room, yet he rows for hours without complaint. Even when he is almost blind from lack of sleep, he hesitates to ask the exhausted correspondent for relief. When he finally does ask, he does so "meekly." Billie is also practical and calm, analyzing their situation much as the captain does and offering solid, carefully considered advice about what to do next. The only one whose name readers know, he is also the one they most expect to live. Even when the men finally begin swimming for shore it is Billie who is "ahead in the race ... swimming strongly and rapidly." Yet it is Billie, the man who perhaps most deserves to live, who is the one who drowns.

The Cook

The cook remains hopeful of salvation to the point of being naive. Thus, he frequently allows his mind to wander to the joys of life on land, including eating good food.

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