This article by Christopher Metress talks about how the writing in “The Open Boat” shifts from a feeling of indifference to anxiety.
Metress begins by talking about the four key moments in the story that create this shift from indifference to anxiety. The first example is in Section I, the opening sentence and its emphasis on what is not known when they talk about how the color of the sky is not known. Next is in Section IV, the narrator’s reveals that the crew is miles from a life-saving station. Then, also in Section IV, the meaning of the man on the beach waving his coat and the dialogue surrounding this uncertainty. Finally, in Section VII, the last sentence states that the survivors “could then be interpreters”. There are many interpretations of the open sentence of the story. The crew does not need to know the color of the sky, but it must know what the tiny house represents. This statement causes frustration for the audience as they do not receive the answer that was expected.
Metress’ main focus is how Crane keeps the amount of information that the reader knows, the same as the amount that the characters know. For Crane, the problem of knowledge is perhaps the most important dilemma, and in this story, by both giving and withholding knowledge at the right times. Crane then gets rid of the tension from the unknown that was shared between the reader and the crew.
The lack of experience that the reader has, when it comes to uncertainty in situations, the way that Crane showed this experience by putting the reader through the same thing. Certainly, the vagueness of the first sentence calls our attention to a lack of knowledge, and yet this lack of knowledge is ultimately without consequence for either the reader or the characters. By Section IV, the characters arrive and the lack of knowledge that they have becomes a problem. They have to know the meaning of the house on the shore and what it is capable of as soon as possible.
Metress states that he hopes to show how “The Open Boat” creates a dilemma for the reader due to the lack of knowledge, just like what the characters experience.