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:
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.