Reading Analysis: Understanding Theme and Character in Crane's "The Open-Boat"

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SWBAT prepare for a thoughtful, well-reasoned exchange of ideas by analyzing the portrayal of nature and the development of characters in "The Open Boat" by Stephen Crane.

Big Idea

Alone, in a boat, four men prove themselves in the face of the intimidating power of the sea; alone, in class, each student proves himself or herself in the face of independent reading.

Introduction & Welcome: It's National Sticky Bun Day!

13 minutes

I welcome students to "National Sticky Bun day," and ask, "What is a Sticky Bun?" because honestly, I do not know. 

From there, we'll take our Friday Favorite vote, voting on favorite type of chocolate: milk, dark, white, mint, etc.

As with the Daily Holidays, Friday Favorite votes serve to build a sense of community and trust within the classroom, encouraging students to share their thoughts and participate in a wide range of discussions, build on others' ideas, express their own ideas clearly (CCSS.ELA-Literacy.SL.9-10.1). In addition, the practice developing and supply evidence for their claims--even in an informal situation--should translate to students' writing as we develop more critical and evaluative pieces this semester (CCSS.ELA-Literacy.W.9-10.1b). 

Time To Read: "The Open-Boat"

35 minutes

In order to get practice with sustained reading, and to tackle the text independently, students are assigned to read Stephen Crane's "The Open Boat"* independently in class today. As students read, they are asked to complete a discussion guide ("Open Boat" Reading Guide) for our next class, explicitly drawing referring to evidence from the text in order to stimulate a thoughtful, well-reasoned exchange of ideas about the story (SL 9-10.1a--today really focuses on the preparation aspect of this standard). On the reading guide, students identify basic information in order to analyze the story in detail in our discussion tomorrow:

  1. Questions call for students to identify strong and thorough textual evidence to support analysis of (RL.9-10.1) the portrayal of nature as it develops and is refined by specific details, especially through the lens of Naturalism (RL 9-10.2).
  2. Questions call for students to identify strong and thorough textual evidence to support analysis of (RL.9-10.1) how the role of the characters develops over the course of the text, how and they are reduced to anonymous figures in a tiny boat in order to develop Naturalism's theme of the power of nature over man (RL 9-10.3). This connects to our prior look at author's life, as well, as "The Correspondent" is, for all intents and purposes, Crane himself.

This scaffolding allows students to start with a foundation of what the text says before moving on to deeper analysis.

Students have already addressed the key ideas of Naturalism in their background reading:

  • the power of nature over the powerlessness of people
  • common people and life accurately
  • environment and instinct determine behavior
  • human destiny or fate is beyond the control of the individual
  • uses setting, theme, and irony to express these ideas

As students read, I take the opportunity to complete assorted feedback for them, but also get up, circulate the room, and answer any questions that may arise as they read. (in this case, "How did the men end up in the boat to start?")  

*"The Open Boat" is included in the collection, "Men, Women, and Boats" by Crane at Project Gutenberg. 

Two-Minute Warning: Wrap-Up & Reminders

2 minutes

With two minutes remaining, I call students back together, and remind them anything from today is homework if it was not completed in class. I also post the next, and final, reading in our look at short stories on the board, so they are prepared when it is due, two classes from now. Students are asked to read background on the Progressive Era, focusing on "The Struggle for Women's Suffrage" Kate Chopin's biography and "The Story of an Hour". As they read "The Story of an Hour," students should keep track of examples of irony that appear in the story.