Stephen Cane’s short story “The Open Boat” is based on
Stephen Crane’s experience of nearly drowning when the steamboat he was on sunk
off the coast of Florida while working as a war correspondent on a gun-running
expedition to Cuba during the Spanish-American War.
Just as in reality, the story took place off the coast
of Florida in January 1897. The plot
began to develop immediately when a hurt captain of the boat, an oiler named
Billie, a correspondent, and a cook found themselves stranded on a small
lifeboat after their ship sinks off the coast of Florida. The injured captain spotted a light in the
distance, which was a lighthouse, and so they rowed towards the
lighthouse. However, because the waves
were strong, they could not reach land and the captain decided for the crew to
pull back into the open sea. After
drifting, they tried to row toward the island and saw a crowd of people waving
to them on the land. The waves were too much
for the crew to overcome, still they attempted one last time to make it to
shore as the captain realized the boat would not be able to sustain them for
much longer. As they rowed toward the
shore, the boat began to sink and all of the crew jumped out.
The poem of the soldier dying alone in the foreign
land of Algiers that the correspondent recalled from his childhood makes sense
to him as an adult, and foreshadow his understanding of his own dilemma and the
possibility that he, or his crewmates, may die alone at sea. The poem ended up coming to fruition when in
the end, the crew survived to make it to the safety of the beach except for
Billie, who drowned.
The central conflict of the story was the external
conflict of man verses nature, as all four crew members struggled to survive
out at sea. Although three do survive,
the struggle makes them realize how little control they had over their own fate
at the hands of nature.