Thursday, March 4, 2010

In The Heart of the Sea; or Hungry Hungry Hippos

Here we are presented with a very interesting spin on an all too familiar theme: the American Origin story. Philbrick gives us an uneasy look into the tragedy of the whale ship Essex, and it’s fortuneless journey out of Nantucket in the early 1800s. Although on the surface, we are faced with an adventure of truly grotesque and horrific scale; reading the book was nothing less than nauseating. I consider for a moment, before delving into analysis: what drawls authors to such atrocious events. “In The Heart of the Sea” is Nate Philbrick’s modernization of the events, and Herman Melville wrote “Moby Dick” in response to the attack; question remains, why are we drawn so intimately to our histories most violent and even vile times?
I consider myself, even at a young age being drawn as an eleven year old to the events of September 11th. With a morbid fascination, I would stare blankly at the televisions playing and replaying the plane crashes on CNN. The gore, the horror of it all had some undefinable reliability that my young mind couldn’t even begin to wrap my head around. Several years later, after reading 9/11 lit (Like Jonathan Safran Foer’s ‘Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close”) the films began to come out. There was Oliver Stone’s awful feature featuring Nick Cage of all people, and the movie did exactly what critics claimed a movie of this nature would do: exploit and waste. However, Paul Greengrass’ document of flight United 93, in the film of the same title was a subtle, dare I say work of art proposing the quiet heroism that is boiling in every American’s blood.
And here we circle back: quiet heroism. This may be the missing link, behind the gore, horror, everything, likes a singular theme that every American brings to the surface of our origin story. Heroism.
“In the Heart of the Sea” is no exception. To overlook the overwhelming circumstances these men were put in, one can see a real brand USA version of survival. We see this from the prospective of a 14 year old young man, talk about drawling on the heartstrings! The book itself is very well written, and easy to read; a polite mix of history, fiction and down right readability. I’m going to include a few favorite quotes, ones that I believe tie this story to the hidden morals behind the American story, and where it fits in this mess.
"Nantucketers saw no contradiction between their livelihood and their religion. God Himself had granted them dominion over the fishes of the sea." Chapter 1, pg. 9. This quote first indicates that God is on our side, on team USA. First mistake. We see faith pop up throughout the text, but at the end, the survivors are reliant on their sense of self, not faith.
“Finally, he made his way to the forward part of the quarterdeck, pulled off his jacket and hat, and stamped on them. "You scoundrels," he snarled, "have not I given you all the ship could afford? Have not I treated you like men? Have you had plenty to eat and drink? What in hell do you want more? Do you wish me to coax you to eat? Or shall I chew your food for you?"” Repulsive as it is, this quote makes me laugh out loud: here Pollard is able to assert his manhood, while almost comically foreshadowing how hungry their will end up. It’s sick, I know, but here is a man being a man.
What comes out of the story, and this attitude, is a very big lesson in naturalist philosophy: we are not rulers of nature, she rules us. What we can take out of this however, is not a hard lesson on not screwing with Mother Earth; it’s that as long as you’re an American Man, you’ll make it. Somehow.

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