The ‘Oceanic feeling’ in Stephen Crane’s The Open Boat and S.T. Coleridge’s The Rime of the Ancient Mariner


Claudia Ioana Doroholschi

West University of Timisoara, Romania

Stephen  Crane’s  ‘The  Open  Boat’  (1897)  is  a  fictionalized account of the writer’s experience of surviving the shipwreck of the Commodore, a steamboat on which he was heading for Cuba to act as a war correspondent. The present paper will explore Crane’s account of the encounter between man and sea, setting it against the background of S.T. Coleridge’s ‘Rime  of  the  Ancient  Mariner’,  which  Crane’s  story  echoes on several occasions. I will examine the two texts in the light of  the  concept  of  ‘oceanic  feeling’,  as  defined  by  Romain Rolland  and  Sigmund  Freud,  who  both  use  the  metaphor of the ocean as a site of the sublime to speak of a sense of oneness, of connectedness between man and world. I will argue that, while in Coleridge’s poem the Mariner first loses and subsequently recovers a mystical connection with nature, embodied by the connection between man and sea, in Crane’s story the situation is more complex. The short story echoes ‘The Rime of the Ancient Mariner’ at key points in the plot, but  seems  to  decode  the  events  in  a  psychological  rather than mystical key. Thus, it seems to suggest that a sense of oneness with nature is not the result of any transcendent connection between man and his surroundings, but merely a  projection  of  the  subject’s  emotions  onto  an  indifferent ature—thus  suggesting  a  psychological  reading  more  consistent  with  Freud’s  than  with  Rolland’s  notion  of  oceanic feeling. Crane’s emphasis on an absurd and indifferent nature in ‘The Open Boat’ has often been read as typical of literary Naturalism. However, I will argue that the ending of the story suggests a return to the Romantic/Rollandian oceanic feeling, and will attempt to untangle the mechanisms and reasons for this reversal. I will also try to account for the allusions to ‘The Rime of the Ancient Mariner’ in this context.

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Published : 2014-05-15

DoroholschiC. (2014). The ‘Oceanic feeling’ in Stephen Crane’s The Open Boat and S.T. Coleridge’s The Rime of the Ancient Mariner. Review of International American Studies, 7(1). Retrieved from

Claudia Ioana Doroholschi
West University of Timisoara, Romania  Italy
Claudia Ioana Doroholschi is a lecturer at the Department of Modern Languages and Literatures at the West University of Timisoara, Romania, where she  teaches  English  and  American  literature,  as  well  as  writing  courses. Her Ph.D. focused on the literature and visual arts of the 1890s. Her publications include articles and studies on Late Victorian as well as contemporary literature, and she has also been involved in a number of creative writing projects.

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