Study Guide

Ship Breaker Society and Class

By Paolo Bacigalupi

Society and Class

Ship Breaker takes place in a highly divisive society. Whether within the micro-society on Bright Sands Beach (Lucky Strike is at the top of the heap, Sloth at the bottom) or the greater global society, life is divided between the haves (a.k.a. the swanks) and the have-nots. But Nailer and Pima's experiences with Nita (Lucky Girl) and Tool turn how they perceive the social levels upside-down, as they watch a swank behave like a ship breaker, and a half-man prove that he's more than a mindless servant.

In other words, just like in the real world, class offers both meaningful and meaningless divisions.

Questions About Society and Class

  1. What does Nailer think of swank life at the beginning of the book, and how has his view about swanks changed at the end of the book?
  2. Characters throughout the novel realize that swanks aren't that different from ship breakers. How are people from these two social levels similar, and what might Bacigalupi want to communicate about social class by making characters from different social classes have similar qualities?
  3. Would it be possible for Nailer to become a swank, and would he even want to be one?

Chew on This

Lucky Girl never understands what it's like to be anything but a swank.

Tool will never rise above his status as a half-man in the world Bacigalupi creates.

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