The Violence of Man and Nature In Stephen Crane’s The Open Boat and The Blue Hotel, violence is presented to the reader as one of several themes. The theme of violence stands out because it is prominent throughout these two works. The main focus of the nature of the violence seen in The Open Boat deals with the threat nature poses to humankind. Sprinkled among the episodes of natural violence, the reader is exposed to brief periods when the crew itself breaks out into violence. In The Blue Hotel we see the human aspect of violence; the way in which humans deal with each other.
In The Open Boat, nature is seen as the root cause of the crews’ troubles. While the violence may not be intentional, it cannot be avoided. Our first encounter with this violence happens in the first paragraph. The crew is struggling against the sea trying to make it to shore. The waves met by the crew are described by Crane as being slate colored, foaming white, and with Jagged edges thrust up like rocks. This description brings to mind images of a barrier blocking their escape. The sea around them becomes their biggest enemy. They have no control over what is happening, the sea is too powerful.
Being a passenger in the boat is likened to being a rider on a bucking bronco, a violent creature in it’s own right. The boat rises and plunges like an animal over the white crested waves. With each wave that is conquered, another comes quickly behind it. Each wave seems to swallow the boat whole, but the crew fghts back, and their plight continues. The situation the crew faces eventually takes it toll on them. This not only becomes clear through their actions and their thoughts, but also through the descriptive words Crane uses. The crew begins to break out in petty arguments At ne point in the story it appears that the crew may be saved.
On the shoreline they see a man waving a piece of cloth at them. The crew thinks and hopes that he is signaling them that he will find help, but nothing comes of it. The man evidently takes the boat for fisherman and does nothing. The man didn’t realize that the crew needed assistance. Nevertheless the crew becomes agitated. One member wanted to “sock him” Just because “he seemed so damned cheerful. ” Later, the cook starts talking about food and asks the oiler what kind of pie he likes best. The cook meant o harm by his question, but it upset the other crew members who told him not to bring the subject up again.
The crew is also becoming despondent. Several times in the story we see this phrase repeated several times. “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. ” They know they are not the first to be in their situation, but from their perspective it is a whole different story. They have come so far and have gone through so much only to e beaten down again and again. Nature seems to be toying with them.
If the sea is going to drown them, why doesn’t it do it right away instead of making them suffer? only adds to the violence in the story. Here we have the strongest member of the crew, drowned by the very thing he had almost conquered. The strong have died while the weak survived. Crane’s choice of words also lends to the dismal violent nature of the situation the crew is in. He describes the sky as being gray and colorless. We have the captain who is injured described as being buried in dejection and indifference. The waves become rocks and other obstacles in the path of the crew.
The crew talks only when necessary and even when they do, it is depressing. Not only are the elements and the sea causing the crew sorrow, we also see members of the animal kingdom playing a part. Making the first appearance is an ordinary sea gull. An innocent creature by all means that never meant anybody any harm. The sea gull doesnt know that it’s presence worries the crew, nor does it realize that its landing on the captain’s shoulder could destroy the delicate balance needed in order to keep the boat from capsizing. Besides having the birds to deal with, a shark appears every now then and seems to be following them.
The shark is an ominous shadow behind the boat causing fear to the crew. It almost seems like an omen to their end. Unlike The Open Boat, the violence in The Blue Hotel is generated by human beings. In The Blue Hotel each human has a part in contributing to the violence acted out. The Swede believes he will be killed and announces his fears to the rest of the guests. The others think he is crazy and keep asking him why he believes this. Scully starts yelling at his son Johnnie, blaming him for what is going on. Scully then tries to calm him down. He is greedy and wants the Swede to stay so he can get his money.
Scully invites the Swede to go upstairs with him. The Swede is wary because he thinks Scully may try to kill him. When Scully offers him a drink he says nothing because Scully may be trying to poison him. Scully practically forces the Swede to have a drink. The Swede ends up drunk and Scully convinces him to stay at the Hotel. Scully defends the Swede’s behavior to the other guests. He tells that them he was from the East and thought that this was a tough area. Scully also says that the Swede is a guest in his Hotel and guests have the privilege to be intimidated by none and prejudice shouldn’t be shown against him.
However, by now Scully must have realized the violent nature of the Swede, but because of his greed he admonishes the others to let the Swede alone. Later in the evening when supper was served, Crane’s description of the Swede gives us incite to his short temper. He tells us that the Swede domineered the meal and gave it a bacchanal appearance. He reaches out and harpoons a biscuit nearly stabbing the hand of the Easterner. After the meal the Swede punched Scully on the houlder thanking him, for the meal. Johnnie knows that his father’s arm is sore and asks why he didn’t say anything about. y keeping silent Scully is acknowledging his responsibility for the Swede’s actions. After dinner the Swede insisted on playing a game of cards. Scully thought this would be a poor idea but the Swede silences him with a “wolfish glare”. The Swede then “menacingly” turned to Johnnie who agreed to play. The Swede cursed Johnnie of cheating. A short fght breaks out between Johnnie and the Swede. The Easterner and the Cowboy tries to break it up but the fght continues until Scully is ble to break it up. Johnnie is shouting that he was accused of cheating and that he didn’t cheat.
The Easterner is trying to calm everyone down saying is it really worth fighting over a game of cards? Johnnie confronts the Swede asking him whether or not he is accusing him of cheating. The Swede answers that he is, and Johnnie replies that they must fght. Scully does nothing to stop it and leads them outside. When they get outside, the Swede reiterates that they are all against him and says he will fght everyone of them. Scully says no, he will fght only Johnnie. The fght begins with Johnnie and Swede rashing into each other. The Cowboy is cheering “Go Johnnie!
Kill him! ” Johnnie goes down and the Cowboy prevents the Swede from attacking Johnnie while he is down. Scully asks his son if he can go on. Instead of breaking up the fght, he lets his son go back to be beaten. The Easterner tries to get Scully to end the fght but Scully wont do it. Johnnie goes down again and this time is unable to rise. He tells his father that “he ain’t any good anymore. ” The boy had to be carried back to the house because of his injuries. His father did nothing to help him. His own other shames his father for what he let happen to him.
After the fight the Cowboy says that he would like to fight the Swede for what he done to Johnnie. However, he is as guilty as Scully is, he did nothing to stop or prevent the fght, but encouraged it. The Swede returns and mocks the Cowboy for cheering on Johnnie, adding to the already tense atmosphere. The Swede leaves again and heads to the town saloon. He attempts to forces the other patrons to have a drink with him. They refuse and the bartender tries to get the Swede to shut up. The Swede becomes angry and again tries to get the others to ave a drink. The Gambler stands up to the Swede and tells him that no one is interested.
The Swede grabs the Gambler who pulls out a blade and stabs the Swede killing him. The next time we meet up with the other main characters it is three years later. The Easterner and the Cowboy are discussing what happened to the Gambler. The gambler ended up with a light sentence because the Swede was kind of a nuisance. The Easterner and the Cowboy express their sympathy for the Gambler. The Cowboy thinks the Swede go what he deserved. But the seemingly innocent Easterner onfesses that Johnnie really was cheating and that because he said nothing, he is as guilty as the rest of them.
The cowboy gets all upset and the story ends with him saying “Well, I didn’t do anything’, did l? ” Even though the cowboy wouldn’t admit it, they all had a part in the death of the Swede. Scully by his greed and ignorance defending the Swede against their accusations. Johnnie by cheating and then lying about it. The Cowboy for doing nothing but encouraging the fight, and the Easterner for knowing that Johnnie cheated but saying nothing. The Gambler also had a role by adding to the Swede’s nger and then killing him without trying something else first.
Through Stephen Crane’s writing we are not only exposed to the violence of man, but also the violence of nature. In The Open Boat we see how natural violence affects Violence is not a pretty sight, but it is a natural thing. In nature, violence happens everyday, it is part of their world-survival of the fittest. In the human world we encounter violence everyday. We may not actually be a participant but in some small way we may be guilty by turning away and doing nothing or encouraging the violence. Through his writing, Stephen Crane exposes us to both worlds.