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.