The Open Boat

by

Stephen Crane

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Oiler Character Analysis

The oiler (that is, someone who oils machinery in a ship’s engine room) is a quiet, tired man named Billie who rides on the lifeboat with his fellow survivors: the captain, the correspondent, and the cook. Throughout the story, the oiler takes turns rowing with the correspondent and speaks very little, save for echoing the captain’s instructions or making the occasional short comment. He is the most exhausted of the four men, having worked a double shift of challenging physical labor in the ship’s engine room just before the Commodore sank. Despite his fatigue, he is strong, empathetic, and always willing to relieve the correspondent from his rowing shift. In the end, the oiler is the only one who drowns. He is found face-down in shallow waters by the life-saving man. The oiler is also the only character with a name, further differentiating him from the others.

Oiler Quotes in The Open Boat

The The Open Boat quotes below are all either spoken by Oiler or refer to Oiler. For each quote, you can also see the other characters and themes related to it (each theme is indicated by its own dot and icon, like this one:
Humans vs. Nature Theme Icon
). Note: all page numbers and citation info for the quotes below refer to the Dover Thrift Editions edition of The Open Boat published in 1993.
Part III Quotes

It would be difficult to describe the subtle brotherhood of men that was here established on the seas. No one said that it was so. No one mentioned it. But it dwelt in the boat, and each man felt it warm him. They were a captain, an oiler, a cook, and a correspondent, and they were friends, friends in a more curiously iron-bound degree than may be common.

Related Characters: Correspondent, Captain, Oiler, Cook
Explanation and Analysis:
Part IV Quotes

If I am going to be drowned—if I am going to be drowned—if I am going to be drowned, why, in the name of the seven mad gods who rule the sea, was I allowed to come thus far and contemplate sand and trees? Was I brought here merely to have my nose dragged away as I way about to nibble the sacred cheese of life?

Related Characters: Correspondent, Captain, Oiler, Cook
Explanation and Analysis:

If this old ninny-woman, Fate, cannot do better than this, she should be deprived of the management of men’s fortunes. She is an old hen who knows not her intention. If she has decided to drown me, why did she not do it at the beginning and save me all this trouble? The whole affair is absurd… But no, she cannot mean to drown me. She dare not drown me. She cannot drown me. Not after all this work.

Related Characters: Correspondent, Captain, Oiler, Cook
Explanation and Analysis:
Part VI Quotes

For it was certainly an abominable injustice to drown a man who had worked so hard, so hard. The man felt it would be a crime most unnatural. Other people had drowned at sea since galleys swarmed with painted sails, but still—

Related Characters: Correspondent, Captain, Oiler, Cook
Explanation and Analysis:

When it occurs to a man that nature does not regard him as important…he at first wishes to throw bricks at the temple, and he hates deeply the fact that there are no bricks and no temples. Any visible expression of nature would surely be pelleted with his jeers.

Related Characters: Correspondent, Captain, Oiler, Cook
Explanation and Analysis:
Part VII Quotes

Afterward he saw his companions in the sea. The oiler was ahead in the race. He was swimming strongly and rapidly.

Related Characters: Correspondent, Oiler
Explanation and Analysis:
Get the entire The Open Boat LitChart as a printable PDF.
The Open Boat PDF

Oiler Character Timeline in The Open Boat

The timeline below shows where the character Oiler appears in The Open Boat. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Part I
Suffering, Survival, Empathy, and Community Theme Icon
Certainty and Uncertainty  Theme Icon
...is the cook, who is in charge of bailing water out of the lifeboat. The oiler (that is, a person who oils machinery in a ship’s engine room) steers the boat... (full context)
Humans vs. Nature Theme Icon
Suffering, Survival, Empathy, and Community Theme Icon
The captain tells Billie, the oiler, to keep the lifeboat headed south. The lifeboat is compared to a “bucking bronco” for... (full context)
Certainty and Uncertainty  Theme Icon
...refuge” doesn’t have a crew, just emergency supplies. As the cook and correspondent argue, the oiler says it doesn’t matter, considering that they aren’t even there yet. The cook says maybe... (full context)
Part II
Humans vs. Nature Theme Icon
Suffering, Survival, Empathy, and Community Theme Icon
...an on-shore wind, stating that without it, the men wouldn’t have chance. The correspondent and oiler agree, but the captain laughs and says with “humor, contempt, and tragedy,” “Do you think... (full context)
Certainty and Uncertainty  Theme Icon
The oiler, the cook, and the correspondent feel optimistic but don’t voice it, because they feel that... (full context)
Humans vs. Nature Theme Icon
...captain can’t wave it away for fear of capsizing the boat in the process. The oiler tells the bird that it looks like it was carved crudely by hand, and all... (full context)
Suffering, Survival, Empathy, and Community Theme Icon
The oiler and the correspondent continue taking turns rowing. Switching places on the tiny lifeboat without capsizing... (full context)
Part III
Certainty and Uncertainty  Theme Icon
...men’s progress toward shore. The lighthouse in the distance appears larger and larger, and the oiler turns his head frequently to look at it. Land finally comes into view, though it... (full context)
Humans vs. Nature Theme Icon
Certainty and Uncertainty  Theme Icon
...boat speed through the water. The small lifeboat struggles over the “impetuous” waves as the oiler or the correspondent take the oars again. (full context)
Suffering, Survival, Empathy, and Community Theme Icon
Fate and Mortality Theme Icon
...excitement. The narrator notes that “for these reasons, and for others” the correspondent and the oiler dislike their task of rowing. The correspondent thinks it’s absurd that people row boats for... (full context)
Certainty and Uncertainty  Theme Icon
The captain reminds the correspondent and the oiler to preserve their strength in case they are forced to swim. The captain sees a... (full context)
Part IV
Humans vs. Nature Theme Icon
Certainty and Uncertainty  Theme Icon
The waves near shore are too powerful for the boat, so the oiler rows back to deeper waters. The waves make a “preparatory and long growl” as one... (full context)
Humans vs. Nature Theme Icon
Suffering, Survival, Empathy, and Community Theme Icon
The narrator repeats the rowing pattern: “the oiler rowed, and then the correspondent rowed. Then the oiler rowed.” All the men’s backs ache,... (full context)
Humans vs. Nature Theme Icon
Suffering, Survival, Empathy, and Community Theme Icon
...shore because “he seemed so damned cheerful.” Meanwhile, the narrator repeats the rowing pattern: “the oiler rowed, and then the correspondent rowed, and then the oiler rowed.” A single star appears... (full context)
Humans vs. Nature Theme Icon
Suffering, Survival, Empathy, and Community Theme Icon
Fate and Mortality Theme Icon
...“subdued growl of a crest,” the night is quiet. Half-awake, the cook sleepily asks the oiler what his favorite flavor of pie is. (full context)
Part V
Suffering, Survival, Empathy, and Community Theme Icon
The oiler and the correspondent chastise the cook for tempting them with the thought of food, while... (full context)
Humans vs. Nature Theme Icon
Suffering, Survival, Empathy, and Community Theme Icon
Fate and Mortality Theme Icon
The correspondent looks at the oiler and the cook huddled together in the bottom of the boat as they sleep, and... (full context)
Part VI
Humans vs. Nature Theme Icon
Suffering, Survival, Empathy, and Community Theme Icon
...the correspondent admits that he wishes he knew the captain had been awake, too. The oiler takes over the rowing, and the correspondent immediately falls asleep—only to be woken up, seemingly... (full context)
Humans vs. Nature Theme Icon
Suffering, Survival, Empathy, and Community Theme Icon
Later that evening, the captain instructs the oiler and the correspondent to sleep while the cook watches over the boat. He tells the... (full context)
Suffering, Survival, Empathy, and Community Theme Icon
...much as shows him a picture of oars. Soon after, he switches again with the oiler. (full context)
Part VII
Humans vs. Nature Theme Icon
Suffering, Survival, Empathy, and Community Theme Icon
Fate and Mortality Theme Icon
...the violent waves, filling with water faster than the cook can bail it out. The oiler prepares the men to jump at the next wave. The correspondent grabs a lifebelt from... (full context)
Suffering, Survival, Empathy, and Community Theme Icon
...the water, while the captain holds onto the overturned boat with his uninjured hand. The oiler is “ahead in the race,” quickly and powerfully swimming to shore. (full context)
Humans vs. Nature Theme Icon
Suffering, Survival, Empathy, and Community Theme Icon
Fate and Mortality Theme Icon
...points, and the correspondent tells him, “Go.” In the shallow water of the shore, the oiler is face down, as waves periodically crash over his body and then retreat. (full context)
Humans vs. Nature Theme Icon
Suffering, Survival, Empathy, and Community Theme Icon
Fate and Mortality Theme Icon
...people bearing blankets, coffee, clothing, “and all the remedies sacred to their minds.” For the oiler, whose body is carried onto dry land, the shore offers nothing more than “the sinister... (full context)