The Open Boat

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The Open Boat

Open Boat, The - Illustration - Chris Park.jpg

Illustration by Chris Park.

Author Stephen Crane
Published 1897-??-??
Type Fiction, Short story
Genre Drama
Themes Drama
Age Group Adult

The Open Boat is a short story by Stephen Crane first published in 1897 in Scribner's Magazine then in a compilation book in 1898. It is a semi-fictionalized account of an actual event that happened to Crane. The story is now in the public domain.

In the story, four men are in a life boat after their ship sank off the coast of Florida. They try to reach land, but enormous waves keep threatening to capsize their small life boat each time they enter shallow water. Still too far out to sea to safely swim to shore, they're left debating what to do next.


Own?Anthology book.
Read?Anthology book.

I bought an anthology of short stories and, after finishing all the ones I had heard of, I decided to choose another story at random to read and this was it.




— This section contains spoilers! —


  • The story is professionally written and makes good use of symbolism, irony, and a large vocabulary.
  • Although it isn't very gripping, you still root for the sailors, hope for their safe landing, and feel bad about their potential demise.


  • I felt unclear about what happened at the ending, even after re-reading it. It wasn't until I later read about the actual events that happened that I understood what Crane was trying to convey.


  • The unnecessary introduction of supernatural elements into the story really injured it for me. He tries to depict the struggle people face against the cold indifference of nature, but that doesn't really work when you have magical saints with divine powers. But, if the saints are so great, why did they let Billie die? For that matter, why let the ship sink to begin with? The story falls prey to the problem of suffering.


Strong female character?FailThere are no women.
Bechdel test?FailThere are no women.
Strong person of color character?FailNo race is mentioned, but it can be assumed everyone is white.
Queer character?FailThere are no queer characters.


  • "A singular disadvantage of the sea lies in the fact that after successfully surmounting one wave you discover another behind it just as important and just as nervously anxious to do something effective in the way of swamping boats."
  • "[Nature] did not seem cruel to him, nor beneficent, nor treacherous, nor wise. But she was indifferent, flatly indifferent."
  • "When it occurs to a man that nature does not regard him as important, and that she feels she would not maim the universe by disposing of him, he at first wishes to throw bricks at the temple, and he hates deeply the fact that there are no bricks and no temples."
  • "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 was about to nibble the sacred cheese of life? It is preposterous. 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 in the beginning and save me all this trouble? The whole affair is absurd."


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