There are many differences between Crane’s “The Open Boat” and the newspaper account of the shipwreck entitled “Stephen Crane’s Own Story.” Although both accounts use mainly historical details, in other ways they are significantly different. Notable first of all is that Crane’s newspaper account is written in first-person, whereas the point of view in his short story is third-person limited. The perspective, then, switches from “journalistic” in one story to a literary narrator on the other. Consider, for example, the first sentence of the short story: “None of them knew the color of the sky.” This line initially suggests an omniscient point of view, but as we read further, the perspective is that of the correspondent, as keen observer, who seems to know much about his comrades and offers this summary:
If I am going to lose my life to the sea—if I am going to lose my life to the sea—why was I allowed to come this far to see sand and trees? Was I brought here merely to have my nose dragged away as I was about to taste the holy food of life?
This is notable. As William Spofford has commented, “Throughout his career, Crane was concerned with the indifference of the natural universe to the plight of man” (American Literary Review, 1890-1910, Vol. 12, No,2, Autumn 1979). The newspaper account is straightforward and the tone is generally neutral. We see scant responses either to the natural world, or to fate in the context of nature’s indifference. Although both accounts close with the revelation that Billy drowned, the ending of the story makes reference to the natural world and what the men have collectively experienced:
When night came, the white waves rolled back and forth in the moonlight, and the wind brought the sound of the great sea’s voice to the men on the shore. And they felt that they could then understand.
Unlike the generally neutral tone of the journalistic account, the tone in this final sentence is far from neutral. It is both sad and hauntingly beautiful.
Stephen Crane's newspaper account begins with the reason for the Commodore's voyage; she was taking guns to Cuba. "The Open Boat" does not name the ship that sank, her captain, or the reason for her voyage. The newspaper story offers much more background information, including the fact that the Commodore became mired in mud and sand twice and changed captains before heading out to sea.
Crane uses the first person to place himself in the action in the newspaper feature but uses the distancing third person in the story, referring to himself only as "the correspondent." The account of the sinking of the Commodore is quite detailed, and the loss of her crew is made resonant through the description of their physical and emotional states as they meet their deaths. None of this is conveyed in "The Open Boat," which picks up only after the ship has sunk and focuses only on the oiler, the captain, the cook, and the correspondent.
"The Open Boat" focuses on the mental processes of the survivors struggling to survive in a pitiless ocean. The camaraderie that is built among the four men is made more poignant with the death of Billie the oiler; in the newspaper account, his death is simply reported as the piece's conclusion.
There are a few differences between Stephen Crane's short story The Open Boat and a shipwreck account entitled Stephen Crane's Own Story.
One difference a reader of each text can see immediately is the point-of-view. The Open Boat is written in third person and the account of a shipwreck is written in first person.
Secondly, while the shipwreck account begins with Crane's description of the ship's departure, the short story beings with the men already at sea. It is almost as if the short story picks up far into the true account Crane provides in the news story (one can assume that Crane did not find the beginning of his true life account on the sea as important as the isolation felt later).
Another difference between the two texts is the language itself. The language used in the shipwreck account is more elevated than that of the short story. As a reader, one may find him or her self lost in the language Crane's "own story" uses. The language in the short story, on the other hand, is very easily negotiable.