Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Hope Keeps Men Alive

     Valerian Albanov’s trek across the polar ice appears to be guided by the power of hope. It seems that the never-ending icy surface continuously discourages the ten men attempting to return home and flee the harsh conditions encountered. Although the environment doesn’t provide much hope, as the men are unable to visualize their final destination, Albanov’s hallucinations and dreams give him and his men hope that pushes them forward, “my story immediately eased the previous evening’s discouragement (…) I too was influenced by the optimistic theme of my dream.” (47).  Throughout my reading of the first half of the novel, I realized how important hope is in order to keep moving. It seems that although the natural conditions surrounding Albanov and his men were extremely discouraging, they were all using their dreams or hallucinations in order to regain hope and walk further. It seems that the fuel allowing them to walk was food and hope, “the disastrous state of the terrain we had to cross often depressed us, but our spirits revived rapidly and we found new energy whenever we met with unexpected good fortune.” (47). I would argue that the exploration of the polar ice cap and the survival of Valerian Albanov was mainly made possible by his mental strength rather than his physical strength. 


  1. I was also impressed with Albanov’s mental strength and unwavering optimism. Throughout the whole book, the crew must continue to push on, with little improvement in their situation. Towards the end of the book [spoiler alert], Albanov’s confidence that a ship would return to the abandoned camp (although “his conviction was founded on nothing at all”) reinvigorates his will to live and his determination to persevere: “The first sight of Sedov’s inscriptions and the two metal mail tins nailed to the big cabin had convinced me, for no apparent reason, that a ship from Arkhangel’sk would arrive some time this year. This idea had become so firmly anchored in my mind that I really expected the ship to arrive in August…” I felt as if Albanov’s confidence in future rescue and “unexpected good fortune” [finding the abandoned camp on Cape Flora] gave them the strength to improve the camp and prepare for, god forbid, another winter in the Arctic. While the Saint Foka rescues Albanov and Konrad, I couldn’t help but think about how Albanov’s optimism would have changed if they had to spend the winter at Cape Flora.

  2. Rondeau, I completely agree with you and I wrote a similar blog post that also attributed the success of Albanov's expedition to hope and, therefore, mental fortitude. With nothing else to provide Albanov and his men with an incentive to keep heading south, hope was their only option. And to consider that they were completely at the mercy of the moving sea ice for most of their journey, which could easily have moved them hundreds of miles in the wrong direction, hope was almost more critical than actually heading south. Consequently, to have hope in such a situation and to be able to maintain the hope of eventually achieving land when there is absolutely no indication that will ever happen takes an extreme mental fortitude, especially on the part of the leader of such an expedition who not only has to keep hope alive in himself, but also in his men.

  3. One of the epigraphs in Into Thin Air Walt Unsworth writes, "certainly none of them had the kind of experience which would make an ascent of everest a reasonable goal. Three things they all had in common: faith in themselves, great determination, and endurance" (Ch. 7). Reading about Albanov's journey across the arctic ice I was reminded of this line. The key to Albanov's escape from the arctic was his determination and faith that he was doing the write thing. Despite their desire to move south, Albanov was at the mercy of the floating ice. They were also highly dependent on finding food. Despite the numerous things that could have gone wrong, Albanov continues to hike southwards. This adventure was not a test of strength or skill, but rather it is a test of perseverance.