Study Guide

The Open Boat Tone

By Stephen Crane

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Serious, Sarcastic, Sympathetic

We might call them Stephen Crane's three S's. We'll take them in order.

1. Serious: This is no joking matter. These men are seriously in danger of losing their lives. Crane doesn't sensationalize the hazards surrounding them (waves, sharks, rocks, etc.), but nor does he make light of them. This makes for a very tangible and plausible tone throughout the story.

2. Sarcastic: Just because he's serious, doesn't mean he can't see the absurdity and of their position, and just how mundane their efforts to survive end up being. Here is one of our favorite examples:

 In the meantime the oiler and the correspondent rowed. And also they rowed. They sat together in the same seat, and each rowed an oar. Then the oiler took both oars; then the correspondent took both oars; then the oiler; then the correspondent. They rowed and they rowed. (2.11-12)

3. Sympathetic: We don't want to say Crane complains a lot, but you'd be hard-pressed to find a passage in this story that doesn't include some reminder about how miserable their situation is. With wet clothes, cold hands, harsh sun, scary waves, aching backs, and empty bellies…it's safe to say that these guys are not very comfortable, and the narrator is very sympathetic to their plight. You can almost feel his yearning to help them out and give them a blanket, some cookies, and maybe a hug.

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