In "The Open Boat," identify two instances of dramatic irony where characters' perceptions don't match reality.

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Because Stephen Crane writes "The Open Boat" from a third-person omniscient point of view, he occasionally offers a narrative perspective that is outside the point of view of the story's characters. These instances function as dramatic irony because the author is letting the reader in on information that the characters don't have. Interestingly, Crane uses only a few of these narrator's intrusions. Most of the story provides the thoughts and dialogue of the characters.

One example of dramatic irony occurs at the end of section II. Crane lets readers know that the boat is making progress. Previously in the story, the passengers of the boat had been able to gauge their progress by their position compared to a clump of brown seaweed. Crane writes, "The little boat . . . made progress that in the absence of sea-weed was not apparent to those in her."

In section III, the passengers discuss whether there is a life-saving station in the vicinity or whether it has been abandoned. In section IV, Crane answers that question for the reader, but the characters have no way of knowing the truth. When they come within sight of a house on shore, Crane clarifies that no life-saving station is within twenty miles of them. However, the characters hurl epithets at the men they suppose are in charge of the station. Since readers know the station is vacant, the passengers' reaction displays dramatic irony.

Section VI contains another example of dramatic irony. The oiler and the correspondent curl up in the bottom of the boat and fall into an exhausted sleep. Crane describes details that they are unaware of, such as the shark that swims next to the boat and the wind and spray that splashes them.

Toward the end of the story, another example of dramatic irony occurs when the correspondent imagines how comfortable it would be to just give in to drowning. Readers know that this is a delusional line of thought because the correspondent does not really want to die.

Crane's occasional intrusion into the story from the perspective of the all-knowing narrator adds greater interest to the story as readers receive extra information that the characters don't have.

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In Stephen Crane's "The Open Boat," the main character, the correspondant insists upon his power to interpret the circumstances in which he finds himself, but his is a false ability. As a result, ironic situations are created.  Here are two examples of this:

Dramatic irony example #1

Crane defines the setting of the boat on the sea as

The horizon narrowed and widened, and dipped and rose, at all times its edge was jagged with waves that seemed thrust up in points like rocks.

Despite the conditions under which the men in the lifeboat find themselves, in Section 3 there is "a brotherhood" that is formed among them without anything being said; they become friends as they are joined in this struggle to survive against great odds as the sea extends for miles with an uncertainty of reaching shore. Yet, as the three men take turns rowing, the correspondent, "who had been taught to be cynical" feels at the time that it "was the best experience of his life."

  • Dramatic irony example #2

In Section 7, the men realize that they cannot reach the shore and must try to draw as close as possible and then swim.  Soon, the men are knocked overboard; when the correspondent surfaces, he feels the coldness of the water, and he wonders at the "immovable quality" of the shore. Afterward, he notices that

[T]he oiler was ahead in the race. He was swimming strongly and rapidly.

Soon, he has even more difficulty and his progress ends. As he struggles, the correspondent decides that "drowning must really be a comfortable arrangement."  However, ironically, when the correspondent actually reaches the shore, it is the oiler, who has seemed to be swimming easily, that lies in the "shallows, face downward."

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