Stephen Crane’s “The Open Boat,” is thought to be one of the finest stories ever written by an American. Crane uses a theme of cosmic irony. Cosmic irony is the belief that the universe is so large and man is so small that the universe is indifferent to the plight of man. In “The Open Boat,” Crane’s theme, cosmic irony, is illustrated through the use of symbols for isolation, insignificance, and indifference.
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Three specific examples of cosmic irony symbolism used by Crane are, the power of the ocean against the insignificance of the boat, the sea against the universe, and the little boat in a vast sea from the people on the shore. The indifference aspect of cosmic irony is where things serve no purpose, and there is truly no care for anyone or anything. In “The Open Boat,” the power of the ocean against the insignificance of the boat, is a prime example of indifference used by Crane. The universe is represented by the power of the ocean, and the small boat in this ocean is symbolic of man in this giant universe. The immaculate power of the ocean is very indifferent to the small boat, just as our great universe could not care less for man. Insignificance is described as being a lack of importance. Those little things that are insignificant mean nothing to the universe. In “The Open Boat,” the sea against the universe is symbolic of insignificance in cosmic irony. The sea represents something which seems very large to mankind, but is actually very insignificant in comparison to the universe.
The universe would still go on without that sea, just like the universe would still go on without mankind. The third form of symbolism in cosmic irony is isolation. Isolation is being held in captivity or lack of contact with the world or universe. The little boat in a vast sea versus the people on the shore is symbolic of isolation. The small boat seems so large and important to the people on it, while the people on the shore just see this small boat as one of many objects in that vast sea. This is prime example of man versus society. The belief of cosmic irony holds great significance in the writers of the time of Stephen Crane. The new philosophies portrayed in cosmic irony were so new and different. They taught a different approach to the way the reader interprets certain symbols. Cosmic irony is a theme which is used every day, even though it may not always be noticed.