To better appreciate Crane's “The Open Boat,” take note of the following concepts:
Stephen Crane actually experienced a situation similar to the story; he was stranded in a lifeboat with other sailors for over 30 hours after the ship he was on sank in the waters off Florida.
One of the more simple settings in all of literature: a small boat in the ocean
Life is a constant struggle and a test; people must fight against death, even though the strongest may not survive, and the least likely may be the winner. Man's free will and desires do not come into play because Fate will always hold the upper hand. Also note the conflict between man and nature and how Crane contrasts nature's indifference to man's desperation. These themes are a few basic elements of Naturalism.
Crane draws each character as a distinct individual with strengths and weaknesses. Pay attention to the cooperation of the men as they focus on their one goal.
The curt, precise dialogue among the men sustains the tension and suspense in “The Open Boat.” Crane's use of imagery emphasizes the deadliness of the sea and sky, which appear almost to be characters in the story. At times he presents the scene as if it were viewed from a different vantage point, which both distances the reader from the action and heightens the contrast between calm and fury.