Study Guide

Owen Coffin in In the Heart of the Sea

By Nathaniel Philbrick

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Owen Coffin

Though he meets a gruesome and untimely end (in the bellies of his uncle and best friends, no less), young Owen Coffin does a lot of growing over the course of In the Heart of the Sea.

At first, Coffin is eager to exploit his familial connection with Captain Pollard for his own benefit. It's hard to blame him for trying: the horrors of working on a whaleship would take an entire season of Dirty Jobs to document. Still, it doesn't work out well for him. After making "a desperate, ill-advised appeal to his kinsman" to avoid hard labor, Coffin only earns himself extra scorn from Essex's first mate, Owen Chase (2.39).

So what makes Coffin change his tune? We're unsure: all we know is that Coffin had every opportunity to pass the buck after choosing that unlucky lot, but he didn't. Pollard even asks him directly if he wants to try again, but having "already resigned himself to his fate," Coffin responds simply: "I like it as well as any other" (11.43). That's the definition of a selfless move. Though it's hard not to be heartbroken about the poor kid's fate, you've got to respect him for sacrificing himself for the people he loves.

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