Stephen Crane´s “The Open Boat “ - A Naturalistic Short Story

Fact Or Fiction?

Term Paper, 2010

9 Pages, Grade: 1,3


Dersch 1

Stephen Crane, recognized by modern critics as one of the most innovative writers of his generation, was shipwrecked in January 1897 on board the SS Commodore. The ship which was on its way from Florida to Cuba, transporting a substantial cargo of weapons and ammunition, sank after hitting a sandbar. Crane, who was heading to Cuba to work as a newspaper correspondent covering the war in Cuba, survived. He made it into a small lifeboat, together with three other men, but only three of them should survive. Back at the shore, he wrote an article about the incident, which was published on the front page of the “New York Press.” The journalistic article is a literary approach regarding his time spent on the Commodore and his subsequent rescue. The end of the article contains a gap in the narrative at the point, when the four men started to navigate their way through the rough sea and then it continues with the scenery in which they were stranded at the beach, found by people who helped them. Crane later published his short story “The Open Boat”, which perfectly fits into the missing section of the article. It suggests to me that Crane wanted to reach a bigger audience by using the article to guide his readers to the short story and attract more to his literature, one example being his 1883 novel “Maggie: A Girl of the Streets,” which was not widely received at that time. Although “The Open Boat” seems to be a fictional story there are a lot of corresponding links which one would assume there is a close connection to the shipwreck and the article. This essay will draw attention and highlight the main corresponding links, it will clarify that the short story is a prime example for the literary movement called “Naturalism”, and it will suggest that there is more significant amount of fact than you might expect from a fictional story.

The question whether this piece of literary work is a fictional or a nonfictional work led to a monumental discussion amongst critics and scholars. In her work Fact, Not Fiction: Questioning Our Assumptions About Crane´s “The Open Boat,” Stefanie Bates Eye claims

Dersch 2

that some critics state the regard to Crane´s autobiographical content served as a “germ” ( Eye 65) of the idea to write the story and it developed itself more throughout Crane´s creative impulses. Contrasting critics hold the opinion that the short story is “no more or less fictional than the newspaper account” (Eye 65). However the discussion might end, it is not to disregard that it had a great impact on the study of American literature, and especially on the genre of the short story. I would like to start with the question: What were Crane´s intentions in writing the story? Did he want to write fictional or nonfictional? In our assumptions, we should include the fact, that the genre of nonfictional writing has not narrowly been defined until today, and that until the late 1960s it was not commonly used among writers. According to Michael Pearson, by then, the genre of nonfictional writing became more popular, because a great number of writers began to use it for confronting reading public with “a special edge, a way of confronting a rapidly changing and confusing reality” (Pearson 27). A fact which is very interesting and supports the nonfictional tendency, is, that Crane´s short story was republished in 1965, exactly in the time when people began to read nonfictional stories. This republication shows that the story is better placed in the literary movement in which nonfictional stories were in the ascendent. Ronald Weber explains the success of the new literary form by the “trimming” of familiar literary forms, adding entertaining stylistics, which differ from the ordinary “dreariness of day-to-day journalism” (Weber 36) but also not going in the complex direction of famous fabulists. So one can assume that Crane was possibly ahead of his time. The only two basic genres he could choose from at that time, were “the journalistic form of nonfiction and the more literary form of fiction” (Eye 66). But he experimented with them, giving also his newspaper approach a literary tone and creating something different with his short story. In the world of writing, there were and still are standards for journalistic writing, for fictional writing and later also a few basic standards for nonfictional writing were developed. The expectations a reader has


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Stephen Crane´s “The Open Boat “ - A Naturalistic Short Story
Fact Or Fiction?
University of Stuttgart
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ISBN (eBook)
ISBN (Book)
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362 KB
Stephen, Crane´s, Open, Boat, Naturalistic, Short, Story, Fact, Fiction
Quote paper
Timo Dersch (Author), 2010, Stephen Crane´s “The Open Boat “ - A Naturalistic Short Story, Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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