Study Guide

The Open Boat Section 6

By Stephen Crane

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Section 6

  • Once again, the narrator ponders over the question of why Fate would bring them so close to rescue, only to drown them in the end, but after a nightlike the one that just passed, a man might conclude he really is going to be drowned, even if it is horribly unfair.
  • This leads to a hugely important realization: when the universe makes a man feel insignificant, he can counter this by proclaiming that he loves himself, even if there's nothing out there in the universe that loves him.
  • None of the men say anything about this epiphany out loud; they just sit thinking about it. They don't talk much at this point in the story. They feel about how you'd imagine they would feel.
  • The correspondent thinks about this strange poem he hasn't thought of in forever, about a French soldier dying in Algiers.
  • The correspondent notices how, previously, he hadn't really cared about the soldier dying. His classmates had tried to convince him why it was important, but he didn't feel connected to the soldier at all: "It was less to him than breaking off a pencil's point" (6.8). That's seriously not caring.
  • But now, finding himself in some pretty dire straits himself, the correspondent no longer finds the soldier's death quite so insignificant. He thinks of the verse and finally sees the soldier as "a human, living thing" (6.9).
  • The correspondent imagines the soldier in his mind. He sees him lying on the sand, hand on his chest, blood pouring down his fingers. He sees the sun setting on a far-off Algerian city.
  • As the correspondent dreams of the dying soldier, he feels a "profound and perfectly impersonal comprehension," and feels sorry for the soldier (6.10).
  • The shark disappears. The correspondent sees a fire in the distance on the beach (just like the sun setting in Algiers, right?).
  • The captain sits up and says, sarcastically, that the life-saving people sure do take their time.
  • The correspondent asks if he saw the shark earlier. The captain says yes, he did, and it sure was big. The correspondent wishes he had known there was someone else awake.
  • Some time later, he asks the oiler to take over for him, and lies down to sleep.
  • He's so tired that it seems like only moments later that the oiler, in "the last stages of exhaustion," asks him to take the oars again (6.19).
  • Later on that night, the captain tells the cook to take one of the oars and steer the boat, so the oiler and correspondent can both get some sleep.
  • As soon as they're asleep and the cook is all alone, the shark comes back. (Okay, it could be a different shark, but we'd be willing to bet it's the same one.)
  • After a while, the boat drifts toward land and the waves get bigger. The cook wakes everyone up to ask for help.
  • The correspondent rows, and the captain gives him some whiskey. He jokes that if they ever get to shore, he never wants to see an oar ever again.
  • After a while, he asks the oiler to take over for him rowing.
  • The correspondent is happy to finally have someone to talk with. 

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