If Hooper is the Han Solo of Jaws, Quint is the Obi-Wan Kenobi. Only instead of a light saber, Quint has a harpoon gun. Instead of using the Force, Quint uses tried-and-true fishing traditions. And instead of a kindly, white-bearded old Jedi, Quint is a borderline crazy sea skipper with a serious beef with all shark-kind.
Film reviewers tend to describe him as "salty." So… yeah.
He introduces himself like this:
QUINT: Y'all know me. Know how I earn a livin'. I'll catch this bird for you, but it ain't gonna be easy. Bad fish. […] This shark, swallow you whole. Little shakin', little tenderizin', an' down you go. And we gotta do it quick, that'll bring back your tourists, put all your businesses on a payin' basis. But it's not gonna be pleasant. I value my neck a lot more than three thousand bucks, Chief. I'll find him for three, but I'll catch him, and kill him, for ten. […] I don't want no volunteers, I don't want no mates, there's just too many captains on this island. $10,000 for me by myself. For that you get the head, the tail, the whole damn thing.
One confident guy.
Quint, played by legendary British actor Robert Shaw, is everything that Brody and Hooper are not. Whereas Brody's a family man, Quint's a bachelor who broke his arm while "celebrating [his] third wife's demise" and endlessly spouts bawdy jokes. (Who could forget, "Here's to swimmin' with bowlegged women!"?) Hooper depends upon science and technology. Quint's too cool for all that newfangled stuff. Brody wants to get help, or at least a bigger boat, and get home in one piece. Quint seems obsessed with defeating the shark on his own; he smashes the radio when Brody tries to call for backup and pushes the Orca beyond its capacity.
Quint's relationship with sharks, now that you mention it, is probably what sets him apart from the others. To Brody, sharks are a frightening mystery. To Hooper, they're fascinating objects of scientific interest and respect. Quint, on the other hand, hates them—straight up, deep down, passionately hates them. His tortured history, revealed during his monologue about the USS Indianapolis, helps the audience understand his seemingly insane actions aboard the Orca.
The defining moment for Quint's character development in Jaws is the USS Indianapolis monologue. It came into being after several screenwriters wrote versions of the speech before Robert Shaw (who was a playwright as well as an actor) wrote the final version.
Prompted by Brody's question about a scar on his arm, Quint describes his experience on the Indianapolis in June of 1945, on its way home from delivering "the Hiroshima bomb." Japanese torpedoes hit the ship, which sank in 12 minutes, sending 900+ men into the water. Sharks killed hundreds of his crewmates in front of his very eyes as they waited for days to be rescued.
Quint glares ahead during almost the entire speech, as if replaying the memories in his head. Sometimes he's grimacing; sometimes he cracks a twisted smile at jarringly gory points of the story. The audience quickly sees that Quint is deeply haunted by the experience. He's on an intimate basis with those sharks:
QUINT: Sometimes that shark, he looks right into you. Right into your eyes. You know the thing about a shark, he's got... lifeless eyes, black eyes, like a doll's eye. When he comes at ya, doesn't seem to be livin'. Until he bites ya and those black eyes roll over white. And then, ah then you hear that terrible high pitch screamin' and the ocean turns red and spite of all the poundin' and the hollerin' they all come in and rip you to pieces.
As horrible as that image is, somehow this statement is just as chilling:
QUINT: You know that was the time I was most frightened? Waitin' for my turn. I'll never put on a lifejacket again.
Quint keeps that promise. When it looks like the great white might be the end of the Orca and its crew, he hands Hooper and Brody life vests, but doesn't put one on himself. He'd rather drown than be ripped apart.
The Indianapolis monologue accomplishes a couple of things. First, it provides Quint's motivation for his obsession with sharks—and killing this particular one—and his refusal to call for help when the Orca is damaged. But it also makes him a more sympathetic character. If he'd only been the demeaning, raunchy, bossy, provocative guy we knew before the monologue, then his death wouldn't have been so affecting. Gory and horrifying, sure, but not as sad.
The End of Quint
Quint escaped the sharks in 1945, but they finally catch up to him. Quint's death is the last one in the movie, and the most prolonged and graphic. In the book, Quint is accidentally dragged by a harpoon rope into the water and drowned (just like Ahab in Moby Dick). Spielberg thought that wasn't dramatic enough—thus the more Jaws-y movie death, as he slowly slides down toward the shark's snapping jaws and is bitten in half as he desperately stabs the shark and tries to fight it off. As Quint screams in terror and agony, we can't help but think about how he cheated death after the USS Indianapolis incident but succumbed in the end. It's much more tragic than if he had just drowned.