Study Guide

The Open Boat Section 1

By Stephen Crane

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Section 1

  • We begin in a boat. It's bigger than a bread box, but smaller than a bath tub. There are four men in the boat, and the sea surrounds them; they can't even tell the color of the sky. All they can see is the endless, gray ocean water.
  • There are four men in the boat, but we only know them by their titles: the cook is bailing out water from the boat's bottom; the oiler and the correspondent are rowing; the captain, who is injured, is steering the boat.
  • The captain is also thinking about his ship, which sunk the day before, and feeling "profound dejection and indifference" about their situation (1.6).
  • He tells the oiler to steer a little more south. He calls the oiler "Billie," and—take note—this is the only name in the entire story. (What's up with that?)
  • The sea is rough. The waves constantly threaten to destroy the boat and drown the men. They go way way up…and then way way down. If you've ever been out at sea, you can probably imagine just how seasick these guys are feeling right now.
  • Dawn is just breaking. The men only know this because the color of the sea changes—not because they can see the sun or the sky or anything hopeful like that.
  • The cook says there's a "house of refuge" (1.12) nearby, at a place called Mosquito Inlet, and as soon as the boat is spotted, the men will be rescued.
  • The captain says houses of refuge don't have crews, only supplies. It's "life-saving stations" that have crews. A pretty important difference, if you ask us.
  • The cook says okay, well maybe this is a life-saving station.
  • The oiler reminds everyone they're not there yet anyway, so it doesn't matter either way. 

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