In the destiny of Man there is to be misery in life and oblivion in death. Offering no comforting moral truths, religious beliefs became figments of Man’s Imagination. These are some of the ideals of Naturalism. Some traces of Naturalism can be found in a story by Brete Harte called The Outcasts of Poker Flat. In this story Harte uses characters from lower socio-economic classes. There is a Tramp, two prostitutes, a gambler, and two innocent young people that are running away to get married. These characters are overcome by Nature on the mountain. The Tramp, Uncle Billy, is the only survivor because he does not have any good characteristics. The characters that had many good things on their side died because good people don’t always win. Nature has no feelings for the people that are dying on the mountain. This is a Naturalistic ideal because the world and nature are amoral. There is another story with traces of Naturalism in it called To Build a Fire, by Jack London. London uses naturalism in this story by the way Nature controls the main character. The man is not mentally or physically fit to take on the weather, but he thinks his knowledge of this kind of weather and environment alone will lead him to triumph over the storm. The man came up with excuses for the mistakes he made on his trek through the storm. The Main Character has a dog that is more fit physically and mentally than he is. The dog uses instincts to make survival a possibility. The dog detected fear in his master’s voice when he was ordered to go across some ice and turned back. The dog also got ice on its paws and chewed it off so its feet wouldn’t freeze and it could keep on going. Brete Harte, Jack London, and Stephen Crane all use Naturalism in their writings. The short story The Open Boat by Crane contains many symbols, powerful themes, and conflicts.
The characters in The Open Boat are the Cook, the Oiler also known as Billie in the story, the Captain, and the Correspondent. The Cook is the dreamer, the romantic. The Oiler is the strongest and fittest of the story, he represents realism. The Oiler also represents a misconception of the theory, ”Survival of the fittest.” The Captain is fit mentally, he is also a romantic. Finally there is the Correspondent, the Doubting Thomas, the observer of life. Each Character in The Open Boat symbolizes a place in society, a leader, a follower, a model “man”, and an average “man”.
These characters are on a 10-foot long dinghy in the sea after the ship, the Commodore, sank off the coast of Florida. The sea they are on symbolizes life, the world around us. The boat symbolizes a Man’s life in the world, the sea. Man’s life encounters many obstacles and challenges, these challenges are represented by the current the boat was up against, the waves that crashed around the boat, and the rocks that the boat had to keep clear of.
The men on the boat are seeking land. They can see the shore, a lighthouse, and a wind tower. These are symbols of hope at their fingertips. The men also see mats of seaweed and a group of people on the shore. These symbolize false senses of hope. They have a thought in the back of their minds that if they step on to the mat of sea weed that they’ll be out of harms way but they know that if they do step on it that it will sink and they’ll die. The men think of the groups of people on shore as saviors. When in all reality they are just looking at the men in the boat like they are fishermen that are in no danger, when indeed they are in danger and do need help. There is irony in the thought that there are fishermen in a 10-foot dinghy,out in a storm.
When the men are still in the boat they encounter sharks and gulls. The Sharks and Gulls symbolize survival of the fittest and also they could represent the fact that death may be the fate of the crew. This is so because gulls are scavengers and scavengers only come around nearly dead and completely dead animals and the shark is just waiting for something to fall out of the boat from a wave or swell so it can get a meal.
In The Open Boat Crane gives us many powerful themes to think about. One theme is Survival of the fittest is the way Nature works. This means that only the physically and mentally fit animals can come out on the top of situations, but this really isn’t true on the Oiler’s part, because he is the strongest of the crew. Ending up “in the shallows, face downward…His forehead touched sand that was periodically, between each wave, clear of the sea.” The Oiler shows us a false conception of “Only the strong survive.”
Another theme is that Man cannot prepare for life’s tragedies. “Shipwrecks are apropos of nothing. If men could only train for them and have them occur when the men had reached peak condition, there would be less drowning at sea.” We don’t have any control over when something bad is going to happen, one can only do what they can to try and save their life. A theme that could go along with this is that No one will save man; man must do what he can do to save himself.
Man has no control over fate. The correspondent while swimming was flung by a wave, unsuspectingly, over the boat and into water that reached only to his waist. The correspondent didn’t think he was going to survive but by a miracle a wave came along and “saves” his life.
The Open Boat’s conflict can simply be described as a story of man’s confrontation with death and the power of nature’s indifference towards mankind.