Near the end of "The Open Boat," how do the correspondent's experiences on the boat drive him toward his new understanding of morality? Why should a life or death struggle at sea make him think of social functions like first meetings or formal tea conversations?
The only internal thoughts that are presented come from the correspondent. His shifting perspective in the understanding of his own morality comes from the traumatic experience of facing the possibility of his own death. The correspondent doesn't want to consider that he is at the mercy of an indifferent, uncaring Mother Nature. But in the end, he accepts it.
During the long night, a man might decide that it was really the purpose of the seven mad gods to kill him in spite of the awful cruelty of it. But it was certainly not justice to kill a man who had worked so hard, so hard. The man felt it would be a crime.
He thinks that Nature does not care if he lives or dies. He concludes that there is no justice in this. This reinforces his bond with the other men, with humanity in general. If Nature is indifferent, then bonds with other people seem all the more important. Indeed, certainly on the boat, they are all that he has. This is why the correspondent begins to consider his faults and how he might have behaved better in any social situations. His focus is on the bonds with other people. He also dwells on these social situations because he longs to experience them again and improve himself.
The difference between right and wrong seems all too clear to him then. And he understands that if he were given another opportunity, he would improve his conduct and his words.