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When Stephen Crane boarded the steamship Commodore on New Year's in Jacksonville, Florida, he had no idea that before his feet touched the earth again, he would be brought very near the point of death. He was making a journey from Florida to Cuba on the ship in order to expose the crew for their illegal gun-running, but the ship sank and Crane was forced to fight his way back to land. When he finally returned to the shore again, he wrote an account for his newspaper of the things he endured. "Stephen Crane's Own Story" was a good article, but incomplete because Crane didn't tell about what happened between the time he escaped the ship and the time he was rescued. At the end of the article, Crane stated, "The history of life in an open boat for thirty hours would no doubt be instructive for the young, but none is to be told here and now." Even Crane knew that he left out the most important piece of the story, so he wrote another account. This account was much more personal and filled in the gaps left by the newspaper account. Crane wrote "The Open Boat" because he felt that he needed to write another account to let people know how brave his mates were even through the struggles they endured.
Crane's newspaper article is a step-by-step account of the events that led to the sinking of the ship, the bravery of the men who fought for their survival and how four of them escaped on a small dinghy. He told about being stuck in the mud twice as they were trying to leave the port. He described the Negroes and Cubans who were working on the boat, and also mentioned some of the men he met on the ship. He met a man named Tom who said that this would be his last journey on the ship. He told about going into the galley and meeting the cook, who told Crane he had a bad feeling about the ship, but he was hopeful that they would all escape with their lives. Crane then went to the wheelhouse and was dozing there when someone ran to tell the captain that there was a problem in the engine room. Not long after, Stephen was sent to the fireroom to bail water. It was there that Crane first met Billy Higgins.
This is the simple story of what happened to the crew of the Commodore, told in a very simple, straight-forward manner. To this point Crane had given all of the important details of the story, but then he skipped over the part that described what happened on the boat as the men were trying to escape, so he wrote "The Open Boat," to complete his tale. The Open Boat had all of the details that "Stephen Crane's Own Story" was missing. Crane went beyond just simple facts, and began to paint a real picture in his readers' minds.
Crane opens "The Open Boat" with this statement, "None of them knew the color of the sky." The reader was immediately drawn into a bleak setting where four men were stranded in a small boat in the middle of the ocean in January. Many times through the story Crane, who referred to himself only as "the correspondent," gave descriptions of the sea, the wind and the waves. Through Crane's eyes the reader can see the foaming, white waves, feel the cold, salty spray and hear the deafening silence of the ocean. Crane drew his audience into his world for the few moments they read his story. Crane made the reader feel his fear, his loneliness and his optimism that he would live.
Crane used his literary account to bring honor to his fellow survivors. More than simply stating names or describing physical characteristics, The Open Boat showed each man's strengths and how they contributed to the survival of the others. Crane wrote of the captain, who was injured, but stayed in quiet, steady command. Captain Murphy wasn't able to help with the rowing, or the bailing, but he offered the men a word of encouragement when they felt ready to succumb to their exhaustion. Billy Higgins continued to row the boat through the night and day, giving up only when he was too tired to continue and returning even when he wasn't rested. Billy fought to save the lives of them all.
Stephen Crane and three other men fought for survival on an open boat in the ocean for thirty hours; three of them lived to tell their tale. None told it better than Crane in his two separate accounts. "Stephen Crane's Own Story" was incomplete, so Crane finished it by writing a more personal account, "The Open Boat." Two accounts of one story; different because they were written for different reasons, but they served one purpose. Both the newspaper article and literary account showed the bravery of the crew of the Commodore, the steady, calmness of the captain, the incredible loyalty and sacrifice of the oiler, Billy Higgins, and the lessons learned by the correspondent himself. Crane learned that man's will to survive is greater than even the forces of nature, and with hard work he can persevere through any storm. His lesson has spanned the generations and is still relevant to today's readers.