The birds sat
comfortably in groups, and they were envied by some in the dingy, for the wrath
of the sea was no more to them than it was to a covey of prairie chickens a
thousand miles inland. (2.10)
The men are in the boat and seagulls sit in the
waves surrounding them. If this were the Man and the Natural World section, we
might point out the happy relationship between the birds and the tumultuous
sea, and argue that the men in the boat are a little jealous of their happy
calm (not to mention that, as birds, they easily and naturally float in water).
But it isn't, so instead we'll point out that this is the first time Crane
mentions community, or the idea that things are easier and nicer when one has
other people to work with and rely on.
</em>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. The hurt captain, lying against the water-jar in the
bow, spoke always in a low voice and calmly, but he could never command a more
ready and swiftly obedient crew than the motley three of the dingey. It was
more than a mere recognition of what was best for the common safety. There was
surely in it a quality that was personal and heartfelt. And after this devotion
to the commander of the boat there was this comradeship that the correspondent,
for instance, who had been taught to be cynical of men, knew even at the time
was the best experience of his life. But no one said that it was so. No
one mentioned it. (3.1)
Man, this paragraph is so sweet that it almost
makes us cry. We love how the feeling of brotherhood is described as "warm[ing]"
to the men, and how they're too shy or macho to talk about it. We love how the
men are both united in their devotion to their captain, and united in their
equality as a team. We also <em>really</em> love
how this feeling overwhelms the correspondent's lifelong cynicism, making him
feel this might be the best experience of his life. Who would've thought?
He mentioned to
the boat in general how the amusement of rowing struck him, and the weary-faced
oiler smiled in full sympathy. Previously to the foundering, by the way, the
oiler had worked double-watch in the engine-room of the ship. (3.8)
The correspondent likes to talk. We wouldn't go so
far as to call him a chatterbox, but he is definitely looking to make
conversation more often than the others. Even his "name," the
correspondent, makes us think that he's a bookish type, and maybe not the
toughest guy in the world. The oiler, on the other hand, sounds very tough
indeed. Even his name alone gives us the feeling he's big, strong, and gruff.
Oh, and "by the way," he'd been working his butt off on the ship before
it sunk, and hasn't slept in days. Nevertheless, he connects with what the
correspondent says to him, and gives him a genuine smile, as if to say, "I
was just thinking the exact same thing."
</em>The correspondent thought that
he had been drenched to the skin, but happening to feel in the top pocket of
his coat, he found therein eight cigars. Four of them were soaked with
sea-water; four were perfectly scatheless. After a search, somebody produced
three dry matches, and thereupon the four waifs rode in their little boat, and
with an assurance of an impending rescue shining in their eyes, puffed at the
big cigars and judged well and ill of all men. Everybody took a drink of water.
What do you want first—the good news or the bad
news? The good news is that the correspondent found some dry cigars in his
coat. The bad news: only half of them survived the journey, and a fifty percent
chance of survival doesn't bode well for the men in the boat. At least they
share them together—can't you just imagine them carefully passing around the
three matches and lighting the four cigars, then, most importantly, sharing a
celebratory gulp of water. Ahhh, refreshing.
</em>"If we don't all get
ashore—" said the captain. "If we don't all get ashore, I suppose you
fellows know where to send news of my finish?"
briefly exchanged some addresses and admonitions. (4.11-12)
By this point, things aren't looking too good.
Note how the captain repeats the first half of his sentence, as if he gets
choked up a bit at first, and clears his throat to continue. This is a heavy
moment. As they exchange information about how to contact their loved ones, it
goes without saying they'd each be picturing their fathers, their daughters,
their wives. We are left to imagine for ourselves what sort of "admonitions"
you think of those life-saving people? Ain't they peaches?"
"Funny they haven't seen us."
they think we're out here for sport! Maybe they think we're fishin'. Maybe they
think we're damned fools." (4.18-20)
Here's a great illustration of how this feeling of
brotherhood is not exactly universal. The affection and devotion the men feel
toward each other doesn't extend toward anyone else. So when they spy people on
the beach, they go from a neutral feeling of "Hey, those people can rescue
us" to outright hostility: "Hey, why the heck aren't those people
The presence of
this biding thing did not affect the man with the same horror that it would if
he had been a picnicker. He simply looked at the sea dully and swore in an
it is true that he did not wish to be alone with the thing. He wished one of
his companions to awaken by chance and keep him company with it. But the
captain hung motionless over the water-jar and the oiler and the cook in the
bottom of the boat were plunged in slumber. (5.22-23)
Cue the Jaws theme.
It's the correspondent turn with the oars when a very unwelcome shark comes
circling around the boat. The correspondent's (relative) calm is certainly
noteworthy—things are already so bad that he really doesn't seem too surprised
by the shark. What makes this quote significant, though, is how he emphasizes
that he wishes he had some company—he wouldn't find the shark so scary if only
someone else were there to share the experience with him. What does that tell us
about the correspondent? And what about brotherhood?
childhood, the correspondent had been made acquainted with the fact that a
soldier of the Legion lay dying in Algiers, but he had never regarded the fact
as important. Myriads of his school-fellows had informed him of the soldier's
plight, but the dinning had naturally ended by making him perfectly
indifferent. He had never considered it his affair that a soldier of the Legion
lay dying in Algiers, nor had it appeared to him as a matter for sorrow. It was
less to him than breaking of a pencil's point.
it quaintly came to him as a human, living thing. It was no longer merely a
picture of a few throes in the breast of a poet, meanwhile drinking tea and
warming his feet at the grate; it was an actuality—stern, mournful, and fine.
[. . .] He was sorry for the soldier of the Legion who lay dying in Algiers.
This is another great example of the correspondent's
growing sense of connection to his fellow human being. We've already been told
that he had been taught to be "cynical of men" (3.1). Here he
compares a man's death to breaking a pencil point. No, not even that, he
considered it less significant
than breaking a pencil point. That is some serious cynicism. But now he totally
cares about the dying soldier. What's changed? It sounds to us like he now
feels a connection with the soldier, and can not only sympathize,
but also empathize with
his situation and his suffering.
At last there was a short conversation.
"Billie. . . . Billie, will you spell me?"
"Sure," said the oiler. (6.26-28)
We've already addressed how much the correspondent
appreciates communication, but this is another good one. The relief suggested
by the words "at last," it's almost like the correspondent is
nourished by the conversation, like he's taking a long drink of water. Of
course, there's the strong possibility that Crane is being entirely ironic
here, lampooning the idea that a four-word question and a one-word answer could
possibly be considered "conversation." What do you think?
saw a man running along the shore. He was undressing with most remarkable
speed. Coat, trousers, shirt, everything flew magically off him. [. . .] Then
he saw the man who had been running and undressing, and undressing and running,
come bounding into the water. He dragged ashore the cook, and then waded toward
the captain, but the captain waved him away, and sent him to the correspondent.
He was naked, naked as a tree in winter, but a halo was about his head, and he
shone like a saint. (7.31, 35)
Remember earlier when we talked about how the
feeling of brotherhood didn't extend past the borders of the boat? Well here's
where that ends. Fittingly, it happens once the boat is tossed, and the men are
swimming toward shore. A man appears on shore, and immediately runs to help
rescue them. Trust us, it's no accident that he takes off all his clothes and
runs to them as pure and naked as a newborn babe. As if there were any doubt
about this, Crane helpfully describes a halo appearing over his head. So what
do you think this means? Do the men now feel brotherly toward all humanity? Or
just the ones who help them out?