Study Guide

Ship Breaker Plot Analysis

By Paolo Bacigalupi

Plot Analysis


Not Exactly Rosie the Riveter

Nailer, who seems a lot older than his teenage years, is a ship breaker working with a crew to break apart oil tankers for scrap near the Gulf Coast. His boss isn't all that great, and his dad is a violent and manipulative drug addict (Nailer's mom died a while ago). However, Nailer has kind of a surrogate family in his crewmember Pima and her mother. This sets the stage for the big storm.

Rising Action (Conflict)

Swanks versus Ship Breakers

When a seriously killer storm hits the coast, a clipper ship wrecks. Nailer and Pima find it and somewhat reluctantly rescue Nita, a swank, who says her dad owns some corporation. After much deliberation, Nailer and Pima decide to help Nita get back to her people, and the stage is officially set for them to encounter some obstacles along the way.


Escape to the City

But… Richard Lopez finds the trio, and he decides to take charge and get the reward for himself. Scary stuff, since he's high almost all the time. So Nailer and Nita escape with the help of Pima and her mother and a half-man named Tool. Tool takes Nailer and Nita under his protection and the three flee north toward Orleans so that Nita can find her people.

More Complications

Political Machinations for Dummies

This is an action book, Shmoopers, so of course there are more complications in the plot. Like this: Richard and his crew plus the people who are chasing Nita to use her as leverage against her father come after the trio. Nita is eventually captured by Richard, who gives her to her enemies, and Nailer allies himself with some of Nita's people that he finds aboard the clipper ship Dauntless.


Pirates of the Caribbean, the Ship Breaker version

Nailer and the crew of the Dauntless approach a ship they think Nita is on, but it's a trap, and a bigger ship bears down on the Dauntless. Needless to say, a battle ensues. Nailer tries to find Nita, but when he does, his father has her, and is intent on selling her to save himself. The two fight, and Nailer kills his dad to save himself and Nita. Now that's a climax.

Falling Action

A Swim for their Lives… Literally

Their troubles aren't over yet, though, since they're on a sinking ship. Nailer and Nita escape the sinking Pole Star and swim through rough seas to the Dauntless. It's hard for Nailer because he hurt his ankle, but they succeed.


Game, Set, Match

Nailer and Pima talk on the beach where they used to work about how they no longer have to break ships and the future. Nailer has some pretty important realizations about who and what makes family—it's all about love, yo—and for his next step, he's most likely going to work on the Dauntless.

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