polvo magazine

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Into The Heart of Mankind:

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A review of In the Heart of The Sea, The Tragedy of the Whale ship Essex
By Leticia Cortez

LXVI
“Tis thus with people in an open boat,
they live upon the love of life, and bear
more than can be believed, or even thought,
and stand like rocks the tempest’s wear and tear;
and hardship still has the sailor’s lot,
Since Noah’s ark went cruising here and there…
But Man is a carnivorous production,
And must have meals, at least one meal a day;
He cannot live, like woodstocks, upon suction,
But like the shark and tiger, must have prey…
From The second Canto by Byron

Reflecting on this book by Nathaniel Philbrick has moved me and also shaken my vague understanding of humanity in desperate circumstances. What drives us to cling tenaciously to life? This book is a historical record of what happens to a group of people under conditions unimaginable to most of us.

A crew of whalers set out on a journey to hunt a creature that ended up attacking them and sinking their ship. They set out on a voyage towards an unknown world with unimaginable dangers. What drove them one might ask? Economics. They left Nantucket, their family and everything familiar to embark on this trip, where they found themselves in the middle of a nightmare. A dreamless stupor, perhaps better described as a state of mesmerizing despair.

According to Hermann Melville, the Pacific Ocean is the Earth’s beating heart. It is the largest ocean it is also the one with the most cetaceans; such as sperm, blue, white, killer or orca whales. The sperm whale is the most coveted by whalers due to its size and amount of oil that can extracted from them. These whales have the largest brain of any animal that has lived on Earth. They process sound, using echolocation to navigate. Per records, a whale attacked the ship twice, premeditatedly. How did a normally passive creature become a predator? The 20 men would ask themselves this question as they abandoned ship and became the prey.

Their sufferings would soon exceed human belief. Out in the middle of the ocean, surrounded by water they began to starve and to dehydrate. Time began to pass with no relief in sight, already dehydrated; they began to suffer from hypernatremia, a condition in which an excessive amount of sodium can cause convulsions. This to them was worse than starvation. They were on their way to their own valley of death as their bodies began to consume themselves.

Their physical torment reached a terrible crescendo as they began to look alike due to dehydration and starvation. After two months of deprivation and fear they reached an unbearable climax, anticipating the horrors to come. The only thing they contemplated was death as an end to their agony and torment. Desperation and hunger led them to cannibalism. As one by one began to die, the survivors ate them. The more they ate the hungrier they became. An average body provides about 66 pounds of edible meat, but under these conditions, those who died only provided about half this amount.

Eventually they were sighted and rescued. The Essex and the crew that survived returned to Nantucket. A Tidal wave of horror possessed the whale fishery as the tale of the Essex was passed from ship to ship. Their sufferings and regression to cannibalism in order to survive, shows that People will eat whatever is at hand despite the repugnance it may evoke.

What was and is also hard to explain for Nantucketers is why the first four men to be eaten were African American, since Nantucket was an abolitionist stronghold. These book answers many of these questions. It is extremely well researched and all these facts are very troubling because it presents humanity under extremely inhumane conditions. Making us try to understand that no one is above the effects of agonizing desperation. This is a mesmerizing book as it delves into the heart of the sea, our hearts, and brains.

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Written by admin

February 25, 2010 at 12:21 am

Posted in Review

Tagged with ,

2 Responses

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  1. how do i summit to this blog?

    fran pez

    February 27, 2010 at 9:01 pm


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