Free Custom «“The Open Boat”: A Marxist View» Essay Sample
The Marxist literary criticism offers a large variety of perspectives useful for the analysis of Stephen Crane’s short story titled “The Open Boat”. As this type of criticism primarily deals with the concepts of social classes and different interactions between them, it allows the readers to look at the communication between the people in the boat as the model of relations between the workers, the intellectuals, and the ruling elite.
At the beginning of the story, the author shows four characters sailing in a boat – the cook, the oiler Billie, the correspondent, and the captain. Crane does not tell much about their background or the social class they belong to, but the difference between them is obvious. The cook and the oiler are from the low class. Their job is connected with physical labor in contrast to that of the correspondent and the captain. The correspondent does not seem to be a very rich man judging by what is told about him in the story, but being the representative of the intellectual elite of the society he is the one who spends much time thinking not only about the practical aspects of their situation but also about the causes and repercussions of the shipwreck. Crane writes, “The correspondent… watched the waves and wondered why he was there” (101). All other men in the boat were more interested in their survival instead of some cause-and-effect reflections. The fourth person in the boat is the captain who by the duty of his position is entitled to take care of the ship and the crew. Therefore, Crane manages to show different social classes even in such a closed space as a small boat in the sea.
The communication between people finding themselves in such a dangerous situation is also to a certain extent based on their functional roles in their social classes. The cook and the oiler are supposed to work and obey to others classes, the correspondent – to think and analyze, and the captain – to guide and rule. More to say, these functions have a great impact on the conversations that happen in the boat. The short dialogue between Billie and the captain at the beginning of the story is a perfect illustration to this idea: “Keep’er a little more south, Billie,” said he. “A little more south, sir,” said the oiler in the stern” (Crane 102). The oiler repeats the captain’s order and obeys it. The working class in the story is also more inclined to associate the rescue with the return to simple material pleasures. For instance, the cook dreams of his favorite meats and pies, whereas the correspondent and the captain are more pessimistic about their future.
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The economic factors are also very important in the story. The reality that shapes the behavior of different social classes is mostly shown here via the characters’ ideas about their future. The representatives of the lower class – the oiler and the cook – cannot dream big as they know that they do not have any opportunities in the future. They dream of returning to their simple lives of workers. On the contrast, the correspondent and the captain tend to think larger and take into account various economic factors. The captain, for instance, feels much pain because of the shipwreck, as he is responsible both for the crew and for the ship as a very expensive material possession.
To conclude, “The Open Boat” is a story that can be perfectly analyzed from the perspective of Marxist literary criticism. This story reflects the relations between different social classes on the model of the communication between the four men that try to save their lives and reach the shore. Crane shapes the characters in accordance with the typical functions of the social classes and highlights various characteristic features of these groups such as the tendency to the analytical reflection of the intellectual elite, and so on.
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