Study Guide

Tool in Ship Breaker

By Paolo Bacigalupi


A Mystery Wrapped in an Enigma

Tool is a half-man, but he seems to have more humanity than many of the actual humans in the bunch. He's a product of genetic engineering, but he's an experiment that seems to have gone a little awry, because instead of being loyal to one patron like he's supposed to be, he's fiercely individualistic. On one hand, he helps save Nailer, Nita, and Pima from Nailer's father; on the other, he abandons Nailer after Nailer decides to continue his search for Nita. Tool is by far the most complex character in Ship Breaker.

Packing a Powerful Punch

Tool is a mixture of human, dog, and tiger, the product of genetic modification. He's hugely muscled and dominant, and though half-men are bred to be intensely loyal to one person, Tool is not. He's mercenary, selling his services to the highest bidder.

On Bright Sands Beach, that bidder is Lucky Strike, though Tool's been known to run with Richard Lopez on occasion. In fact, when Richard's crew first encounters Nita, Nailer, and Pima, Tool threatens to rip Nita's diamond stud out of her nose. Ouch. Even when Nailer recalls what he's heard about Tool, not much of it is good:

People said he wasn't afraid of anything. That he'd been engineered so he couldn't feel pain or fear. He was the only thing Nailer had ever seen his father talk about with careful respect rather than abusive authority. (13.60)

Though this is the first time that we get to know Tool, by the end of the book, we're pretty sure that his lack of fear is the result of some deep philosophical reflection, not stupidity. Because Tool is far smarter than anyone ever gives him credit for.

It's strongly implied that Tool should have a patron throughout the novel. The fact that he doesn't is an anomaly in the world Bacigalupi has created. In fact, the reason that Tool decides to shepherd Nailer and Nita to Orleans is because "the patrons down on the ship have half-men of their own. They will have questions about my presence. It will not be a convenience for anyone" (14.147). It seems like Tool lives on the fringes of society, which gives him a wiser perspective than many others have. One step removed, he possesses clarity that those in the throes lack.

Kant and Rousseau Would Be Proud

"We all die," Tool rumbled. "It's only choosing how." (14.132)

Even though Nailer is afraid of Tool at first, we start to realize that Tool is the resident wise man. He poses questions about the worth of human beings (including himself), and he asserts that he's loyal to no patron, though Nita doesn't believe him. As Tool explains:

Tool's huge shoulders rippled in a shrug. "They made a mistake with me." He smiled slightly, nodded to himself, enjoying a private joke. "I was smarter than they prefer."


Smart enough to know that I can choose who I serve and who I betray, which is more than can be said of the rest of my… people." (17.76-78)

Free will and the freedom that comes with individual choice are both ideas Tool can get behind. But this also means that he doesn't act out of the goodness of his heart. Yes, he decides to take Nailer and Nita to Orleans, but not because of any altruistic feelings. He makes the journey for his own self-interests too; he didn't want to meet other half-men. And when Nailer decides to stay and help rescue Nita, Tool just up and leaves. He says:

I told Sadna I would protect you. But I will not protect you from foolishness. If you choose to risk yourself on the sea, it is nothing to do with me. (19.73)

What? Say it ain't so, Tool. The frustrating thing for us, Shmoopers, is that we want Tool to be this big hero and shield for Nailer; we want him to be there when Nailer and the crew of Dauntless rescue Nita. But that's not who he is. He's a self-serving half-man whose first priority is survival. Honestly, we have to admire him for not fighting for something in which he doesn't believe. It takes a kind of courage to walk away. And before Tool walks away, he gives Nailer one last piece of advice:

"Scientists created me from the genes of dogs and tigers and men and hyenas, but people always believe I am only their dog." Tool's eyes flicked to the captain, and his sharp teeth gleamed in a brief smile. "When the fighting comes, don't deny your slaughter nature. You are no more Richard Lopez than I am obedient hound. Blood is not destiny, no matter what others believe." (19.79)

"Blood is not destiny"—it's an observation that bears repeating. Tool's genetic makeup doesn't dictate his future, and neither does Nailer's. And since that's the last thing Tool says before he disappears off into the docks, we have to think that it's pretty important.

(P.S. You can read more about Tool in The Drowned Cities,Bacigalupi's follow-up to Ship Breaker.)

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