The Open Boat

by

Stephen Crane

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The Open Boat: Part V Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
The oiler and the correspondent chastise the cook for tempting them with the thought of food, while the cook dreamily mumbles about ham sandwiches. Meanwhile, another light appears in the sky. Along with the star, these two lights are “the furniture of the world.”
The curious comparison between stars and furniture may suggest that as “the furniture of the world,” the stars provide comfort for everyone, regardless of location. Or perhaps the association between furniture and home points to the way sailors follow certain stars to guide their way home.
Themes
Suffering, Survival, Empathy, and Community Theme Icon
The men are able to keep their feet somewhat warm by tucking them under one another’s. During the night, intermittent, freezing-cold waves soak the passengers, but after some brief grumbling, the men fall back into their “dead sleep.” Mostly, though, the sea is calm, and the waves lap “without snarling.” Since it’s so dark, the correspondent can’t see the waves until they are “almost upon the boat.” He asks the captain if the boat should still be headed north but is unsure the captain is still awake. In a clear, strong voice, the captain answers yes. 
This passage highlights the comforting power of community, as the men keep themselves physically warm by keeping their feet close together. Although the waves are no longer “snarling” like wild animals, this doesn’t mean the men have tamed nature—the waves churn and then fall silent on their own. The men are also quiet, deep in “dead sleep,” suggesting that they are so exhausted and drained that they might as well be dead.
Themes
Humans vs. Nature Theme Icon
Suffering, Survival, Empathy, and Community Theme Icon
The correspondent looks at the oiler and the cook huddled together in the bottom of the boat as they sleep, and he likens them to “babes of the sea, a grotesque rendering of the old babes in the wood.” Eventually, even the captain seems to be asleep, and the correspondent feels like “the one man afloat on all the oceans.” He thinks the phosphorescence that glows on the ruffled waters looks like it was made by a giant knife. 
The “babes of the wood” is a folktale about children who are abandoned in the woods and die, but as a phrase it has come to mean those who are entering a dangerous situation without knowing it. By referring to the cook and the oiler as “babes of the sea,” the correspondent highlights how innocent the men look while they sleep while unknowingly foreshadowing the end of the story.
Themes
Humans vs. Nature Theme Icon
Suffering, Survival, Empathy, and Community Theme Icon
Fate and Mortality Theme Icon
The correspondent notices another trail of “bluish” phosphorescent light in the water and realizes that their boat is floating alongside a massive shark. Since everyone else is asleep, the correspondent has no one to share the experience with, so he just swears quietly. The correspondent likens the shark to a “gigantic and keen projectile” but ultimately feels that it is no different than if a “picnicker” had been alongside him. Even then, he wishes some of the other men were awake so that he didn’t have to be left alone with the shark.
The shark’s conflation with deadly weaponry is one of the only moments in the text that gestures to the Spanish-American War—the very war that Stephen Crane was meant to cover, and the very reason he boarded the Commodore. The comparison between the shark and a “gigantic and keen projectile” also underscores nature’s extreme power and dominance.
Themes
Humans vs. Nature Theme Icon
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