Stephen Crane, "The Open Boat" (1897)


Discussion Questions:

1.) Why is only the Oiler given a name (Billie)? Why are the others only referred to generally?

2.) Why is it that only the Oiler dies and not anyone else?

3.) What is the view of nature presented in this story?

4.) What is the view of the men presented in this story?

5.) How do the men in the open boat relate to each other?

6.) What "patterns" or "repetitions" do you find in the story? How are these important to understanding the story?

7.) Where does the narrator seem to "intrude" into the story? Is this distracting? Is it effective?

8.) What do you think about the ending to the story (after we find out that Billie the Oiler dies)? Is it truthful, or is the narrator being ironic?

9.) Why did Crane use the structure he did -- the seven sections with Roman numerals?


Pathways to Interpretation:

  1. Consider the biographical context and connections

  2. Consider the historical context and connections

  3. Consider the "literary periods" and similar works.

  4. Use the "elements of fiction."

  5. Look for "patterns."

  6. Always Ask Questions!

  7. Click here for a short "catalog" of approaches.


Patterns in "The Open Boat" -- (note: the page numbers are for the NAAL 6th ed.)

1.) Uses of and references to COLORS:

2.) References to NATURE:

3.) References to ANIMALS:

4.) The RELATIONSHIP of the Men:

5.) Repetition of ROWING passage:

6.) Repetition of DROWNING passage:

7.) Use of the name BILLIE for the Oiler:

8.) Hints or Clues or Foreshadowing about the Oiler:

9.) References to DEATH or DEAD SLEEP:


Other Notes and Questions:

10.) The ENDING -- are they really "interpreters"?

11.) Do the men in "The Open Boat" overcome nature, or are they spared by nature?

12.) Viewed from above / outside -- p. 904

13.) Approximates average experience? -- p. 904 -- NO!

14.) Use of the phrase "Willy Nilly" -- p. 904