In "The Open Boat," what are two instances of dramatic irony in which the characters' perceptions don't match the reality of the situation?

Expert Answers
mwestwood eNotes educator| Certified Educator

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."

Read the study guide:
The Open Boat

Access hundreds of thousands of answers with a free trial.

Start Free Trial
Ask a Question