The Open Boat
The Red Badge of Courage & Other Stories
The Open Boat is a dramatic short story based on Stephen Crane’s own real-life experience, when a ship he was sailing on to Cuba sank in high seas off the coast of Florida. He was a correspondent for an American newspaper and he was on his way to write about problems that led up to The Spanish-American War in 1898.

As the story opens, four men: a cook, a correspondent, an oiler and a captain, are in a lifeboat in stormy seas. They are off the coast of Florida, just after their ship has sunk. Soon, they spot the light of a lighthouse somewhere in the distance, so they know they are near land. Although they can eventually see the shore, the waves are so big that it is too dangerous to try to take the boat in to land. The waves will destroy the lifeboat and possibly crash hard on the men in the surf, maybe killing them.

People on the shore see the lifeboat and try to signal to the men to come in, but the sea is just too rough. The four men in the boat hope that the people on land will send a bigger boat out to rescue them, but that does not happen. Instead, the men are forced to take the boat further out to sea, where the waves are not quite as big and dangerous. They spend a total of two nights in the lifeboat and take turns rowing and then

resting. They are not sure if they will survive and they have exchanged addresses in case any of them should die.

On the morning after their second night, the men are weak and no fishing boat has come to rescue them. The captain decides that they must try to take the lifeboat as close to shore as possible and then be ready to swim when the surf inevitably turns the boat over and throws the men into the cold sea. This is exactly what happens. As they get closer to land, the waves get bigger and bigger. Just as they expect, a big wave comes and all the men are thrown into the sea. The lifeboat turns over and the four men must swim into shore. There are rescuers waiting on shore who help the men out of the water.

Strangely, as the cook, captain and correspondent reach the shore safely and are helped out of the water, they discover that, somehow, the oiler, the strongest man and best swimmer, has drowned after being smashed in the surf by a huge wave. As night comes, the men still hear the pounding of the waves on the shore — the voice of the sea. Now, they understand the power of the sea, and how easily it can claim even the strongest man’s life.

Vocab checkpoint
dramatic adjective

When something is dramatic it is characterized by strong feelings, emotions or adverse physical conditions (as in the meaning used here). It is often used to describe a written style or method of acting (compare with drama, a noun, which means play acting). Also, drama can be used to describe real events, and is often heard in news reports.

high seas noun

High seas is a term used to describe rough, open sea where the coast may be at a long distance or not visible at all. It may also be used to describe sea in independent waters (not covered by the law of any particular country).

oiler noun

An oiler is an engine room worker on a ship whose job is to keep mechanical parts oiled so they do not go rusty at sea.

crash verb

The most common meaning of crash is associated with the collision of cars. Crash may also be used with the action of waves breaking on the shore, or on something like a boat, swimmer or other object in the sea.

signal verb

To signal is to indicate using hands, a flag, a fire, lights or flares, etc., with the intention of seeking help from somebody else. A signal as a noun is a physical symbol intended to warn or indicate something to people (e.g. traffic lights may be called traffic signals).

inevitably adverb

If something is inevitable it means it will definitely happen, no matter what action is taken to prevent it from happening.

smashed verb

Smashed is another way of saying broken. In this case it is used figuratively to describe how the strongest of the men was beaten by the sea.

huge adjective

Huge means very large. Common synonyms of huge include enormous, massive and gigantic.

pounding noun

The pounding of the waves describes the constant action and noise of waves breaking against the shore or against the boat. To pound is to beat or hit something constantly.

claim verb

To claim in this example, is to take. When a person claims something, they make a statement to say it is their own (as with lost property at a police station). In this case the sea claims the strongest man's life.

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