Monday, March 31, 2014

"The Story I Tell" - Novels and Exploration

One theme that remained consistent throughout The Voyage of the Narwhal was the desire to record one’s narrative or tell one’s story through written word. This idea was an essential and accepted fact for all of the characters that weren’t full-time seamen, and they were all compelled for some reason or other to document their experiences and findings.  The purpose of “discovery men,” as described by Captain Sturrock, is to “return to England and write their fancy books” (244).  Yet like many of the other sailors, he thinks this idea is unnecessary. Writing in Narwhal is shown as useless for those who make their livelihood on the sea, and is only important for men who make these exploratory journeys. Erasmus writes an arctic encyclopedia of his findings, Zeke and Kent write narratives of their travels. 

This leads me to ask the question: what purpose does recorded narrative have in exploration? Zeke describes “Is it fair that I have nothing left, except the story I tell?” (362) This novel presents the idea that a place cannot be explored or discovered, and an explorer is worth nothing, unless he has written his experiences and “claimed” the land he discovered. Exploration for the sake of discovery is no longer possible, it becomes a commercial commodity and each individual must one up the man before him.  Yet the fallibility of a novel itself is shown through Zeke’s descriptions of his creation process. He tells Erasmus that he and the rest of the crew will be a very small part in the novel because of the grudge he holds against his men. “It’s going to be… personal, a sort of adventure tale-my encounters with the Esquimaux, my last vision of the Narwhal.” (362). Zeke’s manipulation of his novel and our acute awareness of it calls to the reader’s attention the shortcomings and our dependence upon the words on the page.

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