Study Guide

Ship Breaker Loyalty

By Paolo Bacigalupi


"I know you, Nailer. You'll tell Pima no matter what, and then I'm off crew and someone else buys in." Another pause and then she said, "It's all Fates now. If you got a way out, I'll see you on the outside. You get your revenge then." (3.13)

As Sloth considers whether or not to rescue Nailer, she understands the repercussions for her betrayal of both the spoken crew loyalties and the unspoken code of conduct for ship breakers. The ease with which she betrays Nailer is pitted against Nailer's loyalty to his crew and his friends.

Bapi had put his knife through her light crew tattoos himself, disowning her completely. She'd never work as a ship breaker again. And probably nowhere else, either. Not after breaking blood oaths. She'd proven that no one could trust her. (5.19)

Here, because of Sloth's actions, we see how valued trust and loyalty are. Nailer and Sloth took blood oaths to become crew, so Sloth's betrayal of the oath means that her life is pretty much over. With no trust, she's got no way to survive. Loyalty can be the only thing keeping someone alive.

"Dog DNA would be a step up for her," Pearly said. "At least dogs are loyal."

Every animal they considered was an improvement over the creature who had betrayed them. Ship breaking was too dangerous not to have trust. (5.97-98)

Here we see a little more social hierarchy. As the crew discusses Sloth's disloyalty, they think that she might sell her eggs to help create half-men. Not only does betrayal mean a life of unbearable hardship for Sloth, it means that she becomes less than human in the eyes of those she betrayed.

"My dad will never forget this. No matter what anyone says, he'll never forget." (14.113)

Nailer has just killed Blue Eyes to help Nita and Pima escape and to save Sadna, Pima's mom. He's betrayed his blood, and his dad, Richard, will see the betrayal much like Nailer saw Sloth's betrayal. Blood doesn't inspire loyalty in Richard Lopez; loyalty has to be earned.

"I'm sorry," Nita said. "I didn't want to leave him, either."

Nailer gave her a withering look. "He was helping us."

"There are some fights you can't win." She looked away. (18.93-95)

When Tool is attacked by the half-men working for Pyce, Nailer and Nita want to help, but Nita pulls Nailer away. This, too, is a betrayal of sorts: Nailer considers Tool part of his crew and therefore deserving of the same loyalty his other crewmembers get. Nita is a little more mercenary than Nailer; she's willing to give up Tool to survive. Strangely enough, we think that Tool would probably agree with Nita, as he says, "'I do not lunge into battles that cannot be won'" (19.26).

As he did, the captain raised his gun and shot the man in the back […]

"He was my minder," the captain said simply. (18.158, 161)

When the lieutenant turns, no doubt to rat the captain to Pyce, Captain Candless shoots him. It becomes clear to us that loyalty and betrayal is just as complicated among swanks as it is among ship breakers.

An entire team mobilized instantly at the invocation of Lucky Girl's name. Astonishing to see the value these people placed on her. Until recently, Nailer had mostly though of her as just a rich girl who bought the muscle she needed, but here was something else, this clustered tribe of weaponry and purpose. Total loyalty. More intense even than crew loyalty in the ship-breaking yards. (19.3)

What is it about Nita and her father's company that can inspire this kind of loyalty? Has she become a symbol, and if so, what does she symbolize?

Knot's eyes hardened. His nostrils flared and his teeth showed slightly behind curling lips. "I do not wish it," the half-man growled. (21.20)

Nailer asks Knot if he would ever, could ever work for someone else, and Knot responds with this comment. We know that half-men are engineered to be loyal to their masters, though, so we have to think about how much of Knot's loyalty is genetically manipulated and how much is due to Captain Candless's actions and character.

"You wouldn't ever work for Pyce?"

Sharp teeth showed. A low growl issued. "He is nothing. He turned against us." (21.35)

Nailer pursues the issue of loyalty and betrayal with Knot, and Knot indicates that loyalty can't be bought or sold. Think about how this is similar to the loyalty among Nailer's crew and so different from Richard's crew. Plus, Knot responds to betrayal with the threat of violence. How are loyalty and betrayal tied to violence?

"There were always safer options than crewing with an old loyalist like me." (23.67)

For Candless, and really for all the characters, loyalty comes with a certain amount of danger. Why might loyalty be dangerous for the characters? What about beyond the world of the book?

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