Stephen Crane and Steven Callahan: Two Stories of Survival
There are many incredible survival stories where people, being in quite a desperate situation, managed to save their lives. The most inspiring stories are probably those in which people are challenged and severely tested by nature. There are stories of men and women, forced to undergo a terrible ordeal to preserve their lives, lives of friends, and retain their humanity. Here, there are stories about two Stevens, Crane and Callahan, different people from different times, who were compelled to fight for their lives at sea.
At the end of 19th century, Stephen Crane, a well-known American writer, went to a sea-journey to Cuba. He was to be a correspondent and cover an insurrection that had started on the island. For his journey he took a steamship that was bound for Cuba, transporting there arms and ammunition for the freedom fighters. He set sail from Jacksonville on the afternoon of New Year 1897 moving south along the coast of Florida, but just in two days the ship started to take on water and soon sank. Thus the story of Stephen Crane’s survival began. Not being able to salvage the vessel, crewmen left it. Crane with three others, Captain Murphy, ship’s oiler Higgins and cook Montgomery, sat in a little 10-foot dinghy and headed for the shore some 12 miles away. They were at sea for 30 hours, struggling with monstrous waves and cold and rowing all the time (“The Shipwreck of the SS Commodore”). It became a story of bravery and perseverance, and the strength that a human will to live can bring. The four men in a little boat among the sweeping waves aimed to reach the nearest light-house, whence help could come. Captain Murphy gave commands, having been hurt during the wreck; the cook bailed the boat. Crane and Higgins constantly rowed and controlled the dinghy, spelling each other at the oars. The writer felt increasing pain in the back, but never tried to surrender.
Being reasonable and patient, wrestling with themselves, fighting to the end – that is what made the ordeal finish well, at least for three of the boaters. In a crucial moment, the survivors decided not to wait for help from the shore anymore. As they might become too tired to continue any activity soon, the men endeavored to challenge the surf and make their way towards the shore, though it was very dangerous. To reach the land, they had to swim in the very cold water through rushing rollers.
Unlike Crane, Steven Callahan prior to his great survival had been related to sea and sailing
He was a naval architect, built his own boats, and passionately loved sea. In a sloop made by his own hands, Callahan started his hardest journey from the Canary Islands in winter 1982, sailing alone. At the time, Steven was an experienced seaman, as he had already crossed the Atlantic, and now was returning aiming for the Caribbean.
After a week of the voyage, the sloop was stricken by some unknown object - Callahan thought it was a whale - and sank. The man escaped in an inflatable life raft taking a surviving set he had prepared: some food and water, flares, a self-made spear, a solar still and a piece of foam. Also he had paper to write a log and a book describing how to survive at sea. With this gear Callahan managed to live in the open ocean moving adrift for 76 days, before he was salvaged by a fishing boat near some Caribbean island. He ate raw fish, which he caught with his spear, made fresh water with the distiller, while enduring cold, wetness, winds, and then a hot sun, as well as coping with desperation and loneliness. In the middle of the journey, a part of the raft was punctured. And that he contrived to fix it was taken by Steven as the biggest victory in his life.
Although the stories are different, both proved to affect the survivor’s lives greatly
After the event, Stephen Crane wrote a story “The Open Boat” that is arguably one of the best American short stories. But at the same time, exposure to the cold winter water resulted in the beginning of a disease that, ultimately, would terminate his life. For Steven Callahan, his ordeal became a start of a new life, bringing deep changes to his personality, and made him famous. Moreover, he began writing and wrote a book of his adventure.
The two stories, though different, give an understanding of what enables people to survive in extreme conditions. It is working hard, moving step by step, surmounting wave after wave, and keeping attention to what may be called immediate tasks. Callahan says that if a man continues solving the problems, doing his routine and keeps living, he will eventually find salvation (“76 Days Lost at Sea”). In Crane’s case it was just the same; he had to row and not to stop, even feeling terrible pain in his back, or when his hope for help from the shore faded and the boaters were angry that no saver seemed to see them, no one on the beach called for help. Callahan saw many ships on the sea, but nobody from their crews noticed him as well.
Interesting, but both indicate the same thing: sea in all its manifestations is beautiful
But for a survivor, it is a different beauty, because they can see it only combined with physical pain and toil. Crave says that even if he had had leisure, there were other things to occupy his mind (Crane 7), and Callahan, remembering his pains and fear calls the surrounding picturesque nature “a view of heaven from a seat in hell” (“76 Days Lost at Sea”).
Steven Callahan’s experience in the struggling for life looks considerably more complete; he simply had enough time to suffer, think, realize own weaknesses deeply and overcome himself. But both came to understanding of different but, at the same time, connected things. Callahan understood what may be called a greatness of a human being; his true strength and resilience proved to be high above his previous opinion about himself. And Stephen Crane had a chance to feel a greatness of a human unity and friendship, the importance of cooperation of those who find themselves in a situation of life and death, where everyone’s effort is significant to their survival.