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.
Coleridge, S. T. 1970. The Rime of the Ancient Mariner. New York: Dover Publications Inc.
Crane, S. 1984a. ‘Stephen Crane’s Own Story’, in S. Crane and J. C. Levenson. Prose and Poetry. New York: Literary Classics of the US. 875-884.
Crane, S. 1984b. ‘The Open Boat’, in S. Crane and J. C. Levenson. Prose and Poetry. New York: Literary Classics of the US. 885-909.
Crane, S. 1984c. ‘War is Kind’, in S. Crane and J. C. Levenson. Prose and Poetry. New York: Literary Classics of the US. 1325-1345.
Dendinger, L. 1968. ‘Stephen Crane’s Inverted Use of Key Images of “The Rime of the Ancient Mariner,”’ Studies in Short Fiction 5 (Winter, 1968): 192–94.
Freeman, B. C. 2010. ‘The Awakening: Waking Up at the End of the Line.’ H. Bloom (ed) The Sublime. New York: Bloom's Literary Criticism. 1-26.
Freud, S. 1962. Civilization and its Discontents. New York: W. W. Norton & Company Inc.
Fusco, R. 2003. ‘Stephen Crane Said to the Universe’, in S. Crane, The Red Badge of Courage and Selected Short Fiction. New York: Barnes and Noble Classics.
Hoyle, L. A. 1969. Stephen Crane and an Unsacramental Nature. A Master’s Report submitted in partial fulfilment of the requirements for the degree Master of Arts. Department of English, Kansas State University, Manhattan, Kansas. http://krex.k-state.edu/dspace/bitstream/handle/2097/7206/LD2668R41969H68.pdf?sequence=1, 31.07.2013.
Jackson, J. R. de J. 1969 (2002) Samuel Taylor Coleridge. The Critical Heritage. Vol. 2 (1834-1900). London and New York: Routledge.
Kant, I. 2007. Critique of Judgement. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Rolland, R. 1999. ‘Dec 5, 1927. Letter to Sigmund Freud’, in W.B. Parsons. The Enigma of the Oceanic Feeling. Revisioning the Psychoanalytic Theory of Mysticism. New York and Oxford: Oxford University Press. 173-174.
Stokes, C. 2011. Coleridge, Language and the Sublime. From Transcendence to Finitude. Houndmills, Basingstoke and New York: Palgrave Macmillan.
Wolford, C. L. 2007. ‘This Booming Chaos: Crane’s Search for Transcendence,’ in H. Bloom (ed) Bloom’s Modern Critical Views: Stephen Crane—Updated Edition. New York: Bloom’s Literary Criticism/Infobase Publishing. 57-73.
The Copyright Holder of the submitted text is the Author. The Reader is granted the rights to use the material available in the RIAS websites and pdf documents under the provisions of the Creative CommonsAttribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License (CC BY-SA 4.0). Any commercial use requires separate written agreement with the Author and a proper credit line indicating the source of the original publication in RIAS.