Narrator as Meta-character in Standard Fiction

4 Oct 2018


Upon rereading Stephen Crane’s “The Open Boat,” I was struck by Crane’s inclusion of the snippet of Marshall Thomas’ poem, “Soldier of the Legion.” As I had read the story before I expected that the description that the correspondent had in his mind of the dying soldier would mirror the death of the oiler at the end of Cranes’ story. However, the correspondent saw the soldier “on the sand with his feet out straight and still. While his pale left hand was upon his chest in an attempt to thwart the going of his life, the blood came between his fingers” (Crane 141.) I did not remember the exact details of the oiler so I assumed that he would be seen by the correspondent at the end of the story on his back in the sand and instead of blood seeping through his fingers it would be water from the surf lapping at his hand, but that was not the case. The oiler was found floating face down floating face down rising and falling with the surf while only his forehead would intermittently touch the sand (Crane 146.) The image of the fallen soldier could be a mirror of the correspondent falling to the sand after being saved but the correspondent does not lay dying as he reports being nursed back to health (Crane 146.) But while one could see the correspondent to the sand as an echo of the soldier from the poem, there could still be a better fit, a character that is left on the beach never again to see his native land.


In Sura Rath’s article, “The dialogic narrative of ‘The Open Boat,’” Rath speaks of three more characters in the story that are not traditionally read as characters. Through a synthesis of Henry James’ and Mikhail Bakhtin’s theories of fiction Rath lists the narrator, Stephen Crane (speaking in the voice of the narrator), and Stephen Crane (as the author of the work) as three additional characters to be studied within the context of the story (Rath 1991.) I would like to be able to explain Rath line of logic that brought him to see these three meta-characters as characters within a story that is clearly not intended as or written in the form of meta-fiction, but Rath’s article is tangled with so many small technical details of fiction theory that I do not understand much of it.


However, if the narrator can be seen as a full-fledged character in Stephen Crane’s story, “The open Boat,” the narrator can be shown as an anachronistic holdover character from earlier genres of literature that were accepting of romanticized views of nature that just do not fit in the context of the Naturalism offshoot of the realism genre. In the first paragraph of the story, the narrator Says, “The waves were most wrongfully and barbarously abrupt and tall” (Crane 126.) The narrator’s use of words that ascribe intentions good or bad to a natural process such as waves on the ocean seems out of place in the Naturalist genre. But the narrator is noticeably changed as the story progresses as he or she (or is an unnamed and omniscient narrator an it?) says, “When it occurs to a man that nature does not regard him as important, and that she feels she would not maim the universe by disposing of him, he at first wishes to throw bricks at the temple, and he hates deeply the fact that there are no bricks and no temples” (Crane 140.) The narrator starts this quote by personifying nature as a woman which again does not match with the Naturalism genre but does come closer by showing that nature does not take sides. In fact, the narrator seems to be coming to the realization that nature should not be romanticized because by the end of the quote the narrator admits that man realizes that there are no temples to nature and no bricks to throw at them.


By the end of the story, the narrator says, “When it came night the white waves paced to and fro in the moonlight and the wind brought the sound of the great sea’s voice to the men on the shore and they felt that they could then be interpreters” (Crane 146.) While the men had been taken into the town to be nursed back to health or buried in the oiler’s case, the narrator was stuck on the sand, and while the description of the waves pacing under the moonlight romanticizes nature to a degree, the narrator ends the story giving the survivors the right to read their own interpretations into the events that took place. And the men will report the story as they experienced it because as the narrator states of the men in the first paragraph, “Their eyes glanced level, and were focused on the waves that swept toward them” (Crane 126.) Therefore, it is the narrator and his, her, or its romantic view of nature that is so broken by the events that take place in the story as to never to return to his, her, or its native land.


Work Cited

Crane, Stephen. “The Open Boat.” American Short Story Masterpieces, Dover Publications, 2013, pp. 126–146.

Rath, Sura P., and Mary Neff Shaw. “The Dialogic Narrative of `The Open Boat’.” College Literature, vol. 18, no. 2, June 1991, p. 94. EBSCOhost,

The Monster: The Modernization of the Modern Prometheus


Stephen Crane’s novella, The Monster borrows liberally from ideas that are developed in Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein. Shelley’s book is subtitled The Modern Prometheus. Prometheus was the Titan that helped Zeus create man out of clay as well as the one who brought fire to man against the will of Zeus. To oversimplify the story of Frankenstein, it is a story of the creation of a man from nonliving component parts very similar to Prometheus’s clay, but cranes reference to Prometheus has more to do with the malleability of the clay in which man was created. Not only is Henry’s faced changed like a lump of clay but his face is changed by fire, the other contribution of Prometheus.

Prometheus was punished by Zeus for giving the fire to man. While man was able to use this fire to cook their food and keep warm they could also hurt themselves with it or use the fire to create metal weapons. And with the new weapons they could kill each other more efficiently. Therefore, fire was considered a modernizing influence on mankind that not only made life easier but also created more dangers to go along with the way that it helped to simplify life.

In cranes novella, electricity is given the place of the dangerous tool of modernization. Electricity allowed for lighting up of darkened spaces, but one of the byproducts of electric lights and electric wiring to a lesser degree is heat. Wiring people’s houses for electricity created a much greater likelihood of fire. But more directly the harnessing of electricity for human use allowed for the creation of new ways to kill each other like the electric chair. So Crane’s reference to Frankenstein is also a roundabout critique of electricity specifically and modernization in general. While Crane’s novella is organized around the modernizing of a small town, the story maintains naturalism’s view of nature as uncaring and dangerous.

Holding a Mirror to Society

Taken from ANTON OTTO FISCHER MARINE ARTIST; Katrina Sigsbee Fisher and Alex A. Hurst; Mill Hill Press; Nantucket; MA; © 1984; #159
Taken from ANTON OTTO FISCHER MARINE ARTIST; Katrina Sigsbee Fisher and Alex A. Hurst; Mill Hill Press; Nantucket; MA; © 1984; #159

In Crane’s story, “The Open Boat” the characters are kept from giving up in the face of an unrelenting and uncaring world by focusing their every thought on the work of survival. Similarly, Sary Jane spends her entire time just trying to survive. She constantly focus on her work making nankeen vests. This focus on her work keeps her from giving in to the unrelenting and uncaring environment of the ghetto. On the other hand, The Lady of Shalott is bedridden and unable to work. Being unable to lose herself in the repetition of mundane tasks, she uses her mirror to find beauty in the terrible struggle of day to day life in the ghetto.

Phelps’s story, “The Lady of Shalott” uses mirrors and other glass or glasslike objects to filter out the horrors of the naturalist world in which the characters live. Because The Lady of Shalott cannot move from her bed she is forced to view the world through the ten inches by six inches of mirror. Mirrors reflect a reverse image of the world, and The lady of Shalott’s mirror shows her a world of magic and beauty instead of the conditions in which she actually lives. And there is a sense that as long as she the beauty in the world she will not be affected by these terrible surroundings. In fact, she states that the reason that the people who live in the space below the sidewalk had a mirror they would not have succumbed to the inhuman heat of the summer. And The Lady of Shalott does not die until after her mirror gets destroyed.

But the mirror is not the only screen separating The Lady of Shalott from the reality of the ghetto. Her mirror gives her a view of a window which is the only way that she has to view the world in which she lives. Being shut up in this attack room since was five years old has given her the ability to understand the world from an elitist point of view hence the name The Lady of Shallott. The Lady of Shalott’s misunderstanding of the world mirrors the way that the rest of the population of the city can see the poverty of the ghettos without actually understanding how bad they really are. When the doctor comes to check on The Lady of Shalott, there is a sense that he has come down from his palace and can finally see the conditions in which the poor actually live. He is shocked by the conditions in which The Lady of Shalott lives and claims that she could be cured if only she was moved to better conditions and given treatment. But instead of actually taking care of her himself, he sends for the board of health and goes on vacation. The doctor like so many of the others that had seen glimpses of the life of the poor handed off his responsibility to help to someone else and their help was too little too late.