The Open Boat


Stephen Crane

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Themes and Colors
Humans vs. Nature Theme Icon
Suffering, Survival, Empathy, and Community Theme Icon
Fate and Mortality Theme Icon
Certainty and Uncertainty  Theme Icon
LitCharts assigns a color and icon to each theme in The Open Boat, which you can use to track the themes throughout the work.

Humans vs. Nature

“The Open Boat” primarily centers on the dynamic between humankind and nature. Humankind is represented by the four men in the boat: the correspondent, the captain, the cook, and the oiler. The men try to prevail over nature, but nature clearly has full control over them. The story is careful to point out the way that nature’s control is not due to any particular concern or contempt for the men. Instead…

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Suffering, Survival, Empathy, and Community

“The Open Boat” chronicles four men’s experience of being shipwrecked and forced to take to the open sea on a ten-foot lifeboat. Between battling massive waves, enduring crippling exhaustion, and contemplating the possibility of death, the men suffer greatly. The short story considers what comes out of such suffering, ultimately claiming that working hard and persevering through suffering does not guarantee survival (case in point: the oiler). However, suffering can increase empathy among people…

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Fate and Mortality

Stuck in a ten-foot lifeboat in the middle of the open sea, four shipwreck survivors—the captain, the cook, the correspondent, and the oiler—are forced to grapple with the concepts of fate and death, which now feel suddenly and alarmingly real to them. “The Open Boat” ultimately suggests that humans cannot change their fate, no matter how much they argue, curse, or shake their fists at the sky. In addition, the story…

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Certainty and Uncertainty

Stephen Crane’s “The Open Boat” is deeply critical of the attitude of certainty. Using the experience of four shipwrecked men who are forced to endure the open sea on a ten-foot lifeboat, the short story asserts that very little in life—and in the narrative—is certain. In the story, the cook and the captain embody certainty and uncertainty, respectively. Together, the two characters illustrate how claiming certainty is unproductive and foolish, as well as why accepting…

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