The Open Boat by Stephen Crane, 1897
The magic trick:
Winning the reader’s sympathy toward the men in the boat early in the story
I suppose the mere situation – four men stuck in a tiny boat on the sea after a shipwreck – is enough to engender sympathy. However, Crane does a nice job of winning more specific goodwill from the reader for his four castaways early in “The Open Boat.”
He has the oiler still responding to the captain’s orders with the utmost respect. He describes their teamwork, their positive attitude despite a ceaseless physical toll. He describes the bond that has formed between the four men through their shared peril. Interestingly, he never quite gives any of the four particularly individual characteristics. The reader’s sympathies lie with the group as a whole, which, of course, makes their ensuing attempts to survive all the more tense and emotional. And that’s quite a trick on Crane’s part.
It would be difficult to describe the subtle brotherhood of men that was here established on the seas. No one said that it was so. No one mentioned it. But it dwelt in the boat, and each man felt it warm him. They were a captain, an oiler, a cook, and a correspondent, and they were friends – friends in a more curiously iron-bound degree than may be common.