Friday, February 13, 2009

February 13, 2009
Posted by Michael Fong
Journal #12
Stephen Crane, "The Open Boat"

"In his childhood, the correspondent had been made acquainted with the fact that a soldier of the Legion lay dying in Algiers, but he had never regarded it as important. Myriads of his school-fellows had informed him of the soldier's plight, but the dinning had naturally ended by making him perfectly indifferent. He had never considered it his affair that a soldier of the Legion lay dying in Algiers, nor had it appeared to him as a matter for sorrow. It was less to him than the breaking of a pencil's point. Now, however, it quaintly came to him as a human, living thing. It was no longer merely a picture of a few throes in the breast of a poet, meanwhile drinking tea and warming his feet at the grate; it was an actuality-stern, mournful, and fine." (Stephen Crane, "The Open Boat")

Here, the correspondent is reminded of a verse that he read in his childhood, a verse about a soldier of the Legion dying in Algiers. He goes on to say that in a way he never fully understood the meaning of the text or the significance of the dying soldier till that moment when he is in the dingey with the other three men. He realizes then that scenes in the poem is coming alive, and that he is experiencing the stern, mournful, and fine actuality of it. He goes on to express that he was sorry for the dying soldier.

I think it is in the nature of humans to be less aware of the problems and sufferings of others unless they themselves are involved in it. To fully understand the scope of a certain type of suffering, one must experience it to know the full extent of its impact. Similarly in the story, the correspondent cannot relate to the dying soldier until he is stranded in a dingey with three other survivors from a shipwreck. This phenomenon can also be observed in the present society. While people are both concerned about poverty and global warming, the latter arguably gets relatively more attention as most people feel the immediate threat of global warming on them when compared to poverty. Global warming is an issue that directly relates to all people living in the four corners of the earth, while poverty is only limited to those in poor and undeveloped countries. It is unfair to say that people do not care about those who live in extreme poverty, but it could be observed, at least for me personally, that unless a certain problem concerns and affects an individual in a very direct way, he would pay less attention to it.

The later description of the village upon the shore in "The Open Boat" further drives home the point: the people on shore does not understand the problem and experience of the four men in the boat. They watch curiously at the boat in the distance, but fail to note of the fact that these four men are very near the brink of death, and needs rescuing. This may be Crane's way in saying that a problem that may be that of life and death to one might be virtually insignificant to others due to a difference in perspective and position. This made me think of a Chinese saying: "What seems like a gem to one is worthless in the eyes of others." It is interesting to observe the difference of views between people in different positions. The men on the boat are obviously fighting for their lives, and yet the people on the shore (along with those in the omnibus, remarkably similar to that of a touring bus nowadays) might think that the men are just fishing, or fooling around, or simply doesn't need help.

1 comment:

  1. 20 point. Note that the Correspondent's sudden fondness for the (Romantic) poem is almost exactly like Maggie's fondness for the theater play -- and equally deluded.