Sunday, April 20, 2014

Lethargy vs. the Ocean (don't worry it will make sense)

Is it worse to be the one going, or the one left behind?  The last section of Endurance is split between the waiting crew left behind on Elephant Island, and Shackleton and his party on a desperate journey across the sea to save everyone.  In the first part, Lansing chooses to focus on solely the crew left behind, detailing their agonizing wait for news of the promised rescue ship from late April to late August.  During this time, there is no point of view of what is happening with Shackleton, as Lansing only gives us one side of the story at a time.  This serves to put the reader in the same situation as the marooned crew.  Like them, we feel abandoned, slightly helpless, and as the days keep going on and on with no news of rescue, drained of hope.  The crew really starts to become lethargic, faced with the tedium of waiting, and waiting, with no real way to change their situation.  Lansing could have, to spare the reader the same "agony", interspersed the time we spend with the crew with the parallel account of Shackleton's ocean voyage.  However, he deliberately separates them completely.  I think Lansing has a very distinct reason for doing so.  I think he wants the reader to feel as the crew feels during that stretch of four to five months without news of Shackleton.  I think he wants the reader to feel helpless, because once he switches the narrative back to Shackleton, we are met with completely different circumstances.  Shackleton is faced with the dangers of the ocean and this part of the book is focused on the life and death circumstances that test his leadership.  Thus, Lansing wanted the reader to feel helpless, so that when he went back to tell Shackleton's part of the story, we would feel hope again.  Lansing wanted us to trust in Shackleton's leadership again, and make us feel that the only way we were going to have a happy ending was because Shackleton pulled us through.  That's why I think Lansing saved Shackleton's part of the story for last, because it further instills the prowess of Shackleton's leadership into the reader's head.  There is a reason that the title of the book is Endurance, Shackleton's Incredible Voyage, not the crew's incredible voyage.

This also brings up another question I would like to ponder.  Since the focus of the book is on Shackleton's leadership and experience, does it make what the crew left on Elephant Island faced any less meaningful?  Is their experience any less of an adventure than Shackleton's?  They may not have faced what he did on the ocean, but they did experience their own kind of hardship, waiting around for months on end.  Does it qualify as an adventure as well?

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