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Ideas of Naturalism, Major Themes and Imagery of "The Open Boat"
The gull which sat on the head of the captain most probably symbolizes the herald of tragedy. It is not accidental that the sailors found it ‘’uncanny and sinister’’ with ‘’black bead-like eyes’’ (p.74). The captain wanted to ‘’knock it away’’ as if to deny thoughts about the tragedy, but ‘’the gesture would have capsized this freighted boat’’ (ibid.), meaning that such talks among the crew would only weaken it. In the episode where the all four men smoke cigars (p.78), there are only ‘three dry matches’’ (p. 78) which serves as a hint that only three of four will reach the land.
The story about the soldier which the correspondent recollected acquires the symbol of human compassion, consciousness and all that is humane. In any other period of his life he would not remember it unlike there, on the boat, on the threshold of the shipwreck. No doubt a person on whom a tragedy befalls can be understood and condoled by the person in the similar position. This is why the correspondent who never before thought much about this story now was ‘’moved by a profound and perfectly impersonal comprehension’’ (p.89). He was sorry for him, because he was also sorry for himself. His personal position made him concerned and not indifferent anymore about the story and the soldier.
To conclude, ‘’The Open Boat’’ is a realistic novel which is framed by the stream of American naturalism and through the juxtaposition of man and society with the Universe it emphasizes his (and society’s) vulnerability which is manifested in the inability to control and predict everything because laws of environment cannot be known or deciphered.
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