Monday, March 31, 2014

"I Want My Name on the Map"

When the characters set off on their journey, it appears that a shared mission fuses the crew: searching for any signs of Sir John Franklin’s missing arctic expedition. Erasmus Wells, the expedition’s naturalist, joins the expedition to look out for his sister’s fiancĂ©, Zeke, and to gather information on the natural history of the artic region. Throughout the book, Erasmus shows that he is interested in exposing the natural wonders of the Artic (with recognition), but he seems less concerned about potential fame. As the expedition continues, the tension between Erasmus and Zeke become apparent and I began to question Zeke’s motives for the expedition. In pursuit of personal glory, Zeke is willing to sacrifice the ship and the crew and nothing will satisfy his ambitions: "I want my name on something," he tells Erasmus. "Something big - is that so hard to understand? I want my name on the map." Erasmus busies himself with identifying the local flora and fauna while Zeke makes “elaborate maps of the coastline, naming every wrinkle” (as it turns out, Kane had visited “almost every place we went”). While they make discoveries of have contact with Esquimaux, the expedition is a failure in Zeke’s eyes. Zeke refuses give up his search for Franklin’s men and open polar sea – for Zeke, giving up on these goals means giving up on fame and fortune. Ultimately, Zeke’s selfishness and aspirations of fame put the expedition in jeopardy.


  1. Yet, it is to Barrett's credit that we as the reader are put into the position to vilify Zeke's actions, when as we find out later, public opinion is actually against the actions of Erasmus. What I mean is that Zeke's selfish decisions put the crew in jeopardy, but when he goes north alone and is believed dead, it is Erasmus's decision to abandon him for the sake of everyone else that is criticized upon his return to civilization. This is interesting because as the reader, I felt that Erasmus was in the right for the crew and for himself to abandon the ship and Zeke to head for home, yet it turns out that this rational choice becomes a point of scorn toward Erasmus. Zeke's actions during the expedition, when he miraculously shows up back home, are considered worthy of praise by the public. However, as the reader, I still found him to be in the wrong. This interesting dichotomy made the later part of the novel more interesting to me because it made me question whether my own opinions of these two men were correct, or whether I should side with the "media."

  2. Max, I agree with your last statement and I think that those sentiments are major issues with almost all expeditions whose goals are ultimately about recognition. Almost every book or novel we have read that involved an expedition to conquer a new summit or a new first ascent of a route involved much risk. However, they also had the potential for great reward. In the mountaineering stories we have read, the decision to keep going or turn back was usually made by the team as a whole and, consequently, if the expedition went south, it was almost impossible to pin fault or selfishness on any particular person. However, in the case of maritime exploration stories, the captain has absolute power and, therefore, full responsibility. Consequently, decisions about whether to continue an expedition even in the face of great danger can only fall to him, which, if the expedition gets into trouble, will automatically and easily render him the scapegoat. Because of this, when Zeke is being blamed in the novel for being selfish in his desire for recognition at the expense of the lives of his crew, I think we need to seriously reconsider the reasons as to why he is being blamed because it may turn out that he is less a victim of selfishness than poor circumstances.