The Open Boat Questions and Answers
by Stephen Crane

The Open Boat book cover
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How is the first paragraph of "The Open Boat" important to the story as a whole?

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Sean Gray eNotes educator | Certified Educator

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The Open Boat’s first paragraph is relevant to the rest of the story because of its foreboding imagery. In four short sentences, Crane introduces an ominous setting for the story and places uncertainty over his character’s fates.

None of them knew the color of the sky. Their eyes glanced level and were fastened upon the waves that swept towards them.

It is immediately clear that the titular boat’s occupants are in a perilous situation, and they know it. So fixated are they on the waves crashing toward them that they remain oblivious even to the color of the sky.

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

The boat these sailors find themselves trapped in is rocking so violently up and down that the horizon is constantly coming in and out of focus when it is visible. Adding to the harrowing scene are the threatening waves that remind the boat's occupants of the obstacles all around them. The final quote is how the first paragraph concludes and hints at how the rest of the story will play out.

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heatherlou | Student

The first paragraph of "The Open Boat" introduces a major theme in the story regarding how perspective often shapes experience. As the paragraph progresses, each of the four sentences reveal with more detail how the men in the boat see their circumstances.

In the first sentence, the sky is the subject referenced, but there is a lack of knowledge about it: "None of them knew the color of the sky." The narrator suggests then that the sky is unimportant to the characters. They don't see it; they can't identify what it looks like, but why?

Sentence two explains that the gaze of the characters is on the sea: "Their eyes glanced level, and remained on the waves the swept toward them." They don't recognize the sky color because their eyes "remained" level. They are only looking at what is in front of them: the sea.

While there may be a lack of vision about the sky color, the next sentence shows that they do see, in detail, the color of the sea: "these waves were gray, except for the tops, which were white..." Their knowledge of the waves is in direct contrast to their knowledge of the sky because their eyes are focused on their experience inside the boat.

In the final sentence, the use of structural antithesis in "narrowed and widened, and dipped and rose" suggests the movement of the waves. The reader is offered not only the vision of the characters as they are surrounded by waves that "thrust up in points like rocks" but the undulating feeling of the waves from inside the boat.

It is no wonder now why the characters do not know the color of the sky. From their perspective, the characters are in far more dangerous territory inside the boat. The sky color doesn't seem to matter when the sea waves surrounding them are compared to jagged rocks. This vision of the sea from the open boat as a place of fear and danger foreshadows their continued perspective and explains the choices the characters will make throughout the remainder of the story.