Study Guide

The Open Boat Section 4

By Stephen Crane

Section 4

  • Okay, enough celebration—time to plummet back to earth.
  • The captain can't help but notice there aren't any signs of life on shore—especially around the so-called "house of refuge" (4.1).
  • The sea is really rough. Everyone is sure they're going to be swamped by the waves.
  • The narrator takes a moment to step away from the scene at hand, and lets us in on a little secret: there is no life-saving station anywhere nearby. The men don't know this though, so they sit and stew and wonder why the lifesavers can't see them.
  • The men curse a lot, and we can't blame them. They're not feeling quite so positive anymore.
  • They start thinking all kinds of negative things about the people on shore, thinking maybe they do see them but are too scared to come rescue them.
  • The captain finally says they may have to try to row themselves to shore without any help.
  • The oiler points the boat toward the shore. Everyone gets tense and nervous.
  • The captain says they may not all make it to shore, and asks the men to send news of his death if he doesn't make it.
  • The men exchange the addresses of their loved ones.
  • At this point, the narrator looks inside the men and finds they're all very angry. He imagines they're all asking themselves the same question: if they're going to die now, why did the universe bring them so close to land and allow them to start thinking they would be rescued? If Fate really is in charge, they think, then she should have just killed them at the beginning, without all this drama.
  • The waves get even bigger. The oiler rows them back away from shore.
  • Far in the distance, they can see a city, but they don't know which city it is. So close, but so far.
  • The oiler and the correspondent take turns rowing.
  • All of a sudden, they see a man walking on the beach.
  • The man stops, and waves. The men in the boat just about lose their minds with excitement.
  • The man turns and runs up to a house.
  • The captain ties a towel to a stick he finds floating in the water and waves his makeshift flag it in the air.
  • Now another man appears, riding a bicycle. He rides out to join the first man.
  • As more people congregate, the men realize: this isn't a life-saving station; it's a resort.
  • They see a man waving a flag…but then realize it's just his coat. The man thinks they're fishing. Fishing?!
  • The men are furious. They don't understand why the man isn't sending for a rescue boat.
  • The clouds get darker, and the wind colder. The ocean spray is so cold, the men feel like they're being burned by it. Things aren't looking too hopeful at this point in the story.
  • One of the men fantasizes about catching the man who waved his coat and throwing him into the water just because he "seemed so damned cheerful" (4.84).
  • It gets dark. The men wonder again about the cruelty of their fate.
  • The captain is now the most patient of the group, and encourages the men who are rowing.
  • In the middle of the night, the oiler is rowing. It's very quiet. Out of nowhere, the cook speaks up: "'Billie,' he murmured, dreamfully, 'what kind of pie do you like best?'" (4.91).

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