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The Open Boat | Study Guide

Stephen Crane

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The Open Boat | Quotes


None of them knew the color of the sky.


With this brief sentence, the narrator is explaining that the full attention of the men is on the dangers of the ocean around them. The point is reinforced with another sentence that appears shortly afterwards: "All of the men knew the colors of the sea."


It would be difficult to describe the subtle brotherhood of men that was here established on the seas.


One of the key themes of the story is that extreme circumstances can forge a bond between people that is utterly unbreakable. The friendship that develops between the four men is described as "iron-bound."


How in the name of all that was sane could there be people who thought it was amusing to row a boat?

The Correspondent

The correspondent gives a brief flash of black humor. He shows that even in the middle of their exhaustion and pain, the men can see the irony in the fact that the act of rowing, which is causing them so much agony, is something people often do for pleasure.


Funny they don't see us!

The Cook

Different people in the boat repeat this phrase. It's as if they are trying to convince themselves that the lack of rescue is not disturbing. Instead, it's simply an interesting item to be noticed and commented on.


If I am going to be drowned, why ... was I allowed to come thus far and contemplate sand and trees?


This litany is repeated several times in the story. It at first seems to be presented as an actual question, with the men seeking an answer. Later, it becomes more of an expression of despair as the men begin to realize there is indeed no logic to what is happening to them—that they are at the mercy of random events.


She cannot drown me. Not after all this work.


Midway through the story, the men still believe that there should be a logical cause and effect in nature. They feel that if they work hard and do not give in to despair, their efforts will be rewarded.


A night on the sea in an open boat is a long night.


The epitome of understatement, this simple sentence captures the story of the men's struggles in a few carefully chosen words.


It was certainly an abominable injustice to drown a man who had worked so hard, so hard.


The men are still looking for justice from the universe. They want some acknowledgement by Fate that they have done everything they can and deserve to live.


A man ... wishes to throw bricks at the temple, and he hates deeply ... that there are no bricks and no temples.


As the men begin to understand that the universe is indifferent to their suffering, their first reaction is to want to rebel against the religions that made them believe they were being watched over by a benevolent God. But the second realization is that religion is a sham, and that what they have been taught is meaningless.


It was less to him than breaking of a pencil's point.

The Correspondent

With this statement, a parallel is drawn between the correspondent's former indifference to the death of a fictional soldier in a poem, and the indifference of the universe to his own plight. When the correspondent makes that connection, he feels empathy for the soldier for the first time.


This tower was a giant, standing with its back to the plight of the ants.


The wind-tower becomes a symbol of the universe and nature, and the ants represent the men in the boat. The men are as invisible and meaningless to nature as the ants would be to a giant.


Nature ... did not seem cruel to him then, nor, beneficent, nor treacherous, nor wise. But she was indifferent, flatly indifferent.

The Correspondent

At this moment, the correspondent realizes that the indifference of nature is more terrifying than even her treachery. It means that he and his companions don't matter to her at all. There is no longer any hope that they can appeal to nature or to the universe as a whole for any help.


It merely occurred to him that if he should drown it would be a shame.

The Correspondent

At this point, the correspondent has accepted his own insignificance. His death would not be tragic. It would merely be "a shame."


When one gets properly wearied, drowning must really be a comfortable arrangement.

The Correspondent

Another sign of the correspondent's new view of the world is that death can, at times, be viewed as a welcome "cessation of hostilities" between a man and the blind forces of nature he is fighting against.


The wind brought the sound of the great sea's voice to the men on the shore, and they felt that they could then be interpreters.


The three surviving companions have learned from the sea that all of nature feels humankind is insignificant and disposable, of less importance than a grain of sand on a beach.

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