Sunday, April 28, 2013

The Endurance is a full-on character

Although I haven’t read past Part 1, I wanted to post on this aspect of the book thus far, before I forgot about it, and while it’s still fresh. When the pressure starts moving in on the ship and her crew, the men’s diaries begin to really reflect an assigned characterization of the ship. The Endurance became not only a personified female life form to the men, but she was also their life raft, pun intended. The Endurance was their home, their protection, their berth, and it was their responsibility to take care of the ship. They fear injury to her, patched her up when she was torn, and defended her life to the utmost capabilities of their own. Men manned the pumps through their exhaustion, simply trying to save the ship (pg 58-59). Granted, much of the dramatic personification came from Lansing’s narration: “The floe along the port side ground against the ship, warping her along her entire length, and wringing animal-like screams from her as the ice sought to break her back.” (59) But, one can infer that the crew looked on the Endurance similarly, considering the actions they took to save her.

This personification of ships was spoken of briefly by Andrew Jillings at out last HOC day – ships are always named, and traditionally they are female (“a whole other can of worms”) and this of course is because sailors rely so heavily on their ships serving them and taking care of them. This of course is a tit for tat – take care of your ship and she’ll take care of you. But in this case there was no rescuing the Endurance from the crushing ice, and she perished. According to Lansing’s readings of his sources, “More than any other single impression in those final hours, all the men were struck, almost to the point of horror, by the way the ship behaved like a giant beast in its death agonies.” (6) Thus watching the Endurance succumb to the ice pressure was akin to watching a well-known person dying. Although the crew felt relief at being away from the “doomed ship,” they undoubtedly were sad to watch it go, especially since it had been their home for several months.

This humanizing of the ship, one of the most important pieces of the trek’s equipment, is pretty unique thus far in the course – we’ve seen the mountains personified plenty, but we haven’t heard climbers speak of their ice axes as anything more than well-used and / or emotionally significant tools. With the advent of sea-going stories, we’ve entered a new territory in terms of the significance of certain pieces of equipment. What effect does this relationship with a ship (or possibly other equipment – the sledges or even the dogs, which is a whole other category as they are living animals) have upon the experience of the adventure / fight for survival? I’m not sure yet, but I think it changes the experience significantly, as does having a much larger team than most mountain climbing ventures. 

1 comment:

  1. I think you raise some excellent questions. I wanted to talk about the final point you raise, about the effect these relationships with non-human tools would have on the expedition, in terms of the dog sled teams. I'm sure I'm not the only one who was very distressed at this scene in the text. The leaders of the sled teams were reluctant to follow orders, because "there was a deep emotional attachment involved" (105). Yet they came to understand that killing the dogs was necessary for the ultimate survival of the expedition. I'm tempted to liken this moment to Touching the Void, Into Thin Air, or any other instance of human team leaders being left behind when they only would have hindered the survival of their team members. It certainly seems the dog team leaders felt just as much of a bond with their dogs as they did to their human companions, if not an even stronger one. So, what effect does this bond have on the expedition? When Shackleton first suggests killing the dogs, unrest and a temptation to disobey spreads through the group. Some (like Greenstreet and Macklin) are almost mutinous. The emotions of the team leaders after the teams are killed are not delved into in great detail, but because the order came at a time when many members of the expedition were already questioning Shackleton's leadership, it seems this command to kill such emotionally significant non-human players only added fuel to the fire.