Study Guide

Where'd You Go, Bernadette Man and the Natural World

By Maria Semple

Man and the Natural World

Of the million reasons I don't want to go to Antarctica, the main one is that it will require me to leave the house. (1.30)

Antarctica is cool and all, but have you ever stepped outside your front door? That's exhausting enough. As we'll see, Bernadette will go through a lot more than just leaving her house when everything's said and done.

I'm getting really scared about the trip to Antarctica. [...] I just don't think I can make it across the Drake Passage. (1.235)

The Drake Passage is notorious for having some of the roughest waters in all of the world, so if you have a weak stomach, then it isn't the place for you. Despite this, it's the only way to enter Antarctica. Think of it as your first trial before entering its icy kingdom.

I got a huge knot in my stomach because if Antarctica could talk, it would be saying only one thing: you don't belong here. (6.213)

Bee is super psyched to visit Antarctica (it was her idea, after all), but even she's intimidated upon her arrival in the southernmost reaches. The climate here is unlike anything she's ever experienced before...harsh and uncompromising beyond belief.

Antarctica doesn't have a flag, but if it did it should be three horizontal stripes of different shades of gray. (6.221)

Here's a truth bomb: Antarctica is kind of boring. There's no nightlife. No restaurants. You'll be doing a lot of Netflix and chilling. Emphasis on the chill. As it happens, this makes the South Pole an excellent arena for personal reflection.

Pretty soon, I stopped thinking about home, and my friends, because when you're on a boat in Antarctica and there's no night, who are you? (6.225)

This description makes Antarctica seem dream-like, as if it's totally separate from the rest of the world. That's exactly the vibe Bee is looking for right now. Her real life is so stressful and confusing that it's refreshing to forget about it, if only momentarily.

I guess what I'm saying is, I was a ghost on a ghost ship in a ghost land. (6.225)

This metaphor provides a nice continuation of the previous quote, with Bee feeling a greater sense of detachment as she travels deeper into Antarctica.

The immensity of it all, the peacefulness, the stillness and enormous silence, well, I could have sat there forever. (6.385)

Immense is a good word for it. Antarctica makes Bee feel small and insignificant, but not in a bad way. Rather than bumming her out, this immensity helps her to place her own problems into the proper perspective.

Ice. It's trippy, symphonies frozen, the unconscious come to life, and smacking of color: blue. (7.22)

Leave it to Bernadette to describe ice as "trippy." Like her daughter, Bernadette finds a sense of peace in Antarctica, confronting her own "unconscious" struggles for the first time in over a decade.

An iceberg means it's tens of millions of years old and has calved from a glacier. (7.22)

Here's to hoping this line still makes sense in fifty years. We wouldn't be surprised if glaciers are considered a mythological species at that point.

For the past twenty years I've been in training for overwintering at the South Pole! (7.86)

Antarctica is hostile. It's overwhelming. It's a slap in the face in continent form. And that sounds great to Bernadette. Not only has Antarctica helped her come to terms with her internal struggles, but it's also given her the opportunity to restart her career as an architect.

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