Study Guide

Ship Breaker Greed

By Paolo Bacigalupi


But he knew the calculations she was making, her clever mind working the angles, sensing the great pool of wealth, the secret stash that she might pillage later, if Fates and the Rust Saint worked in her favor. (3.63)

As Nailer is stuck in the pool of oil, Sloth doesn't immediately rescue him; in fact, she doesn't rescue him at all. She weighs her options and decides to sacrifice Nailer for the chance that she might be able to use the oil to change her fortunes from rust rat to something like Lucky Strike. So in Sloth's case, her greed causes her to betray Nailer.

"You weren't just lucky," she said. "You were smart. And Lucky Strike, he was smart, too. Half the crews out here find some cache of oil or copper or whatever and none of them figure out what to do with it. Crew boss grabs it in the end, and they get bumped off the wrecks… Luck isn't what you need out here," Pima said. "Smarts is what you need." (5.86)

Combined with intelligence, greed can give someone a boost to a better life. But this way of thinking sounds really similar to Pyce and his betrayal. What makes Lucky Strike's actions more acceptable than Pyce's actions? Why is greed okay in some situations and not in others?

"That's enough to pay off all our work debts. With that much cash you could set up scavenge on your own. Even buy Bapi's light crew slot." (8.81)

Nailer and Pima realize that the scavenge from the clipper ship is enough to help them get out of the terrible jobs they have. Money can give them opportunities not previously available to them, so their greed here is all about possibility and hope for the future.

"Don't be stupid. This is only scavenge if she's not standing on it saying it's hers. All that silver we found? All this gold on her fingers?... She's no servant, that's for sure. She's a damn swank. We let her out, we lose everything." (9.28)

Pima is letting greed cloud her moral judgment, and she wouldn't be talking about killing a defenseless person if so much money weren't at stake. Pima has to weigh her future against her moral code. Not an easy decision to make.

He knew about gold, though. Gold bought security, salvation from the ships and the breaking and light crew. Lucky Strike had gone down that road. Nailer would have been smarter to simply let Pima pigstick the girl and be done with it. (10.19)

Are there only these two options for him—either kill the girl or save her?

"I never really thought about how bad it is here. Not until yesterday. Not until her." He paused. "But you got to think, if she's that rich, there's other swanks out there. There's money out there. And it ain't here. Even Lucky Strike's a joke, in comparison to what she's got." (11.45)

Nailer doesn't really think about the potential for riches until he sees Nita and her wealth. It's this comparison between the haves and the have nots that make him realize just how big the gap is between swanks and rust rats. And this realization makes him even more determined to leave ship breaking for good.

Nailer's father smiled, feral and pleased. "But you just bought your guts back, girlie." He showed her his knife. "And if your dad won't pay enough, we'll pig-open you and see how you squeal." He turned to his crew. "All right, boys and girls. Let's get the scavenge off. I don't want to share too much with Lucky Strike." (12.110-111)

The greed that Nailer and Pima experience is different from Nailer's father's greed. Richard Lopez is willing to use violence in morally suspect ways; Nailer isn't. And while Nailer and Pima recognize that if Nita is alive, the ship is hers, Richard is more than happy to cheat his boss Lucky Strike out of whatever scavenge he can. So greed is connected to morality and ethics.

Pima's mother studied Nailer. "You run and Richard Lopez will hunt you forever. You can never come back […] Broker a deal and sell the girl to those people down there, and Richard will forget. You don't think so, but money will make him forget plenty." (14.119)

After Nailer kills Blue Eyes, Sadna assures him that satiating his father's greed will allow Nailer to stay at Bright Sands Beach. And Nailer has to weigh this wish for peace against the awfulness that is his dad. For Nailer, morality wins out.

"Pyce is avoiding carbon taxation because of territory disputes in the Arctic, and then when it goes to China, it's easy to sell it untraceably. It's risky and it's illegal, and my father found out about it. He was going to force Pyce out of the family, but Pyce moved against him first."

"Billions in Chinese red cash," Nailer said. "It's worth that much?" (16.18-19)

As Nita explains why she's being chased, we see very little difference in the greed of Richard Lopez and Pyce's greed. Both men are willing to break written and unwritten laws to increase their profits, and neither man cares about the morality of their actions.

You want to be like Sloth? he asked himself. Do anything just to make a little more cash?

[…] Nailer couldn't help thinking the Fates had handed him the biggest Lucky Strike in the world and he'd thrown it away. (16.28-29)

When Nailer finds out how rich Nita actually is, he questions whether he should have turned her loss into his gain. He questions whether he's improved his possibilities or limited them because of his greed, though we know that he never would have forgiven himself if he had given Nita up for cash.

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