What are an examples of situational, dramatic and verbal irony in Crane's "The Open Boat"?

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Karen P.L. Hardison eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Situational irony occurs when the men in the open boat see people upon the shore. Situational irony is where a situation occurs in which expectation is contradicted by reality. The men in the boat see these people as their rescuers. The people on the shore see the men in the boat upon the raging sea as a novelty, as part of their excursion, an excursion they probably paid money for. The painful situation is that, in modern days of excursions, the people on the shore do not expect to see a life and death situation play out before them and therefore can not recognize waves and shouts of desperation as anything other than amusement arranged, it would seem, exclusively for their benefit. The situational irony is that while the people on the shore are thrilled and amused, the men in the boat are grasping at rescue as they fight against impending death.

This same scene might possibly be used as an illustration of dramatic irony on the condition that it is agreed that readers do know that the people on the shore are not an illusion that the men in the boat are jointly experiencing. In other words, we must agree that all ambiguity in the scene is only fleeting and that the people are really there. Dramatic irony involves situations in which the reader or audience knows something the characters do not know. The dramatic irony would be that we, the readers, understand that the people are merely visitors on an excursion who have no comprehension of the ways of the sea and perceive the men in the boat as an amusement; they have no suspicion of the life and death situation the men in the boat face. This is what we know that the men do not know: the men see the people as rescuers--until the delusion finally becomes bitterly obvious.

An instance of verbal irony occurs during the conversation between the captain, the oiler and the cook:

"Oh, well," said the captain, soothing his children, "we'll get ashore all right."

But there was that in his tone which made them think, so the oiler quoth: "Yes! If this wind holds!"

The cook was bailing: "Yes! If we don't catch hell in the surf."

The oiler has just rested hope of getting “ashore all right" in the wind keeping up its fierce blowing. The cook responds that the surf might potentially bury them, while he bails water out of the boat. The irony in this exchange is bred by the fact that the wind is responsible for (1) the water in the boat that the cook is bailing and (2) the potential that a raging, wind-torn sea might bury them. Despite the nature and action and effects of the wind, the oiler ironically claims the wind as their one hope of getting ashore. Verbal irony is verbal statements that express something other than what is expected. It is not expected that the wind, which is the cause of the stormy sea, might be said to the one hope of escape from the stormy sea. 

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The Open Boat

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