Study Guide

The White Darkness Man vs. Nature

By Geraldine McCaughrean

Man vs. Nature

An hour later, the plane collided with some invisible barrier and dropped through the air. Cold engulfed the cabin. We had crossed the Antarctic Circle, and it was as solid a thing as an electric fence. (6.32)

Since an electric fence is built to keep living things out, we get the strong sense that the Antarctic Circle is not a friendly place.

I know the whole continent would kill us if it could once sink its teeth into us. […] And yet I've never seen anywhere so beautiful, so marvelous. (7.17)

Sym loves Antarctica despite the fact that it's a hostile place. Perhaps this has something to do with that fact that she's had so many hostile people close to her in her life—you know, like her dad and Victor.

Mike was bright with reassurance. Bacteria could not survive here, so it could not be an infection. Here even the common cold germ is put to flight by the uncommon cold. (9.38)

Is it reassuring when bacteria can't survive somewhere? Or is it just disturbing? Germs may make things difficult for people, but when germs can't survive, you know the environment isn't friendly to people, either.

The weather was trying as hard as we were to rub out what had happened. Or was it trying to expunge us: us puny, noisy, troublesome, destructive interlopers? (10.119)

Expunge means erase or remove. The huge expanses of white snow are a blank slate of sorts—and the continent seems to want to remain unmarred.

Actually, he was probably better off not knowing what kind of terrain we must have skirted or hopped over on the way down from Camp Aurora; how deadly and reckless our passage must have been once the guidance flags petered out. (11.44)

Sym and her companions aren't just skating on thin ice; they are speeding across ice in a vehicle that weighs, like, two tons. Maybe a bad idea. The disappearance of those guidance flags is a sign Sym and co. are in no-man's land.

So when he turned his ankle on the treacherous blocks of ice, it was easy to read it in his face: how it felt to break a bone. (14.105)

Breaking a bone never feels good. But you know where it feels especially bad? In the frozen desert, which will kill you. There's pain, and then there's pain that ushers in certain death. Ouch.

In Antarctica, in the cold, wounds don't heal, they reopen. It's Nature in reverse. (17.2)

Imagine a place so unnaturally cold it can turn a scar into a living wound. Just when we thought we generally knew how our bodies worked, nature had to come along and upend everything.

They say The Ice tries to break a man open and reduce him to the essence. Won't find anything inside me, eh, Titus? (19.2)

Hey, it's fine to break open a walnut. But a person? That just seems rude.

The effect is the same up here—polar asthma. The air is thin, the pressure is low, and each breath has only half the oxygen in it. Your pulse races and your heart thumps like a person trying to get out of a sealed coffin. (19.20)

This sounds kind of like drowning in a way, doesn't it? Unable to breathe properly, frantic, and all that good stuff. Note that a person trying to get out of a sealed coffin isn't dead… yet.

It's so intent on being pure that it spits out everything living, everything that's ever been alive! (21.95)

People are often very cruel to the environment. What happens when the environment is cruel to you? Spoiler alert: A lot of the time, it knocks you down and you never get back up.