Study Guide

In the Heart of the Sea Society and Class

By Nathaniel Philbrick

Society and Class

The owners of the whaleship Essex aren't concerned with silly notions like equality and fair pay—just look at how they exploit their employees in In the Heart of the Sea. African American sailors are given wages that make them barely distinguishable from slaves, continuing a tradition that began with the Nantucketers' exploitation of Native Americans. Even the Essex itself is segregated by class and race. Although it may not shock you that American society was so nasty at the time, you'll certainly be surprised about how many of these issues directly relate to the Essex disaster.

Questions About Society and Class

  1. How are race and class related in In the Heart of the Sea?
  2. Why do Nantucket whalers employ such exploitative hiring practices?
  3. How do class-based issues after the sailors' survival rate? Explain.
  4. Explain the class system that exists on the Essex.

Chew on This

In the book, we frequently see the intersection between race and class, as African-American and Native-American sailors are treated worse than their white peers.

The class system aboard the Essex causes malnourishment among certain segments of the crew, which directly leads to their deaths after the Essex sinks.