Study Guide

In the Heart of the Sea Suffering

By Nathaniel Philbrick

Suffering

It has been estimated that sailors [...] were consuming around 3,800 calories a day. It is unlikely that the men [...] consumed even close to that amount. (3.50)

Even before disaster strikes the Essex, her crew is already running on fumes. This is hugely important, as these men will be expected to survive a horrendous ordeal despite not being at full strength when things get started. That's like starting the Daytona 500 with half a tank of gas.

If they did succeed in reaching South America in sixty days, each man knew he would be little more than a breathing skeleton. (7.11)

This is a scary truth. Can you imagine how you'd react if you were told that you'd be stranded on a boat for two months? We know what we'd do: grab a volleyball, give it a name, and purchase a one-way ticket to crazy town. We hear it's beautiful this time of year.

Chase was plagued by [...] a "tormenting memory" [...] forced to relive the trauma over and over again. (7.15)

Chase's suffering is more psychological than it is physical. Unlike his subordinates, Chase knows that his choices caused the Essex disaster, filling him with a shame that eats him away from the inside.

The tongue hardens into what McGee describes as "a senseless weight, swinging on the still-soft root and striking foreignly against the teeth." (8.17)

In case you don't remember, this is what happens when a human being goes too long without water. Just think about that next time you complain about "dying of thirst." In many ways, this feeling seems to mimic the men's helplessness after the Essex disaster.

Their physical torments had reached a terrible crescendo. It was almost as if they were being poisoned by the combined effects of thirst and hunger. (8.40)

The crew's suffering only gets worse and worse. Eventually, these physical strains snowball, creating a situation where rational thought is all but impossible. At a certain point, these guys are not even strong enough to row anymore, no matter how badly they want to.

Survivors typically undergo a process of psychic deadening that one Auschwitz survivor described as a tendency to "kill my feelings." (11.30)

Once you've become so desperate that cannibalism is involved, you know that things have gotten bad. In light of such anguish—both emotional and physical—the crew's only choice is to shut down their feelings. Otherwise, they might be driven stark raving mad after the horror they've committed.

Captain William Crozier was moved to tears at what Chase called "the most deplorable and affecting picture of suffering and misery." (12.39)

Even Crozier, who has surely witnessed some messed-up stuff during his time at sea, is horrified by the suffering that the Essex's crew has endured. These are changed men. No matter what happens to them in the future, they'll always bear the scars (both literal and figurative) of this awful ordeal.

It is not uncommon for castaways who have been many days at sea and suffered both physically and emotionally to [...] exist in a shared fantasy world. (12.45)

Eventually, the only way for Pollard and Ramsdell to escape from their physical suffering is to transport themselves to an imaginary world. Of course, their imaginary world happens to center on the bones of their former shipmates, but hey—when life gives you lemons, you make lemon skeletons.

It was Pollard and Ramsdell—found clutching the bones of their dead companions—who had come the closest to complete psychic disintegration. (13.11)

While Chase's crew certainly had a rough time, their trip was a cakewalk compared to Pollard and Ramsdell's. These two men were force to kill and murder their nephew and best friend, respectively, which is something you can never come back from. There's just one thing we know for sure—the next Pollard family reunion sure is going to be awkward.

"Once a year," Phinney remembered, "on the anniversary of the loss of the Essex, he locked himself in his room and fasted." (14.22)

Pollard will never forget his experiences during the Essex disaster. In fact, he still seems to feel shame for his part in it. The only way for him to alleviate these feelings, however temporarily, is to remind himself of what that suffering felt like.

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