In the Heart of the Sea: The Tragedy of the Whaleship Essex

In the Heart of the Sea: The Tragedy of the Whaleship Essex Summary and Analysis of Chapter 10: The Whisper of Necessity


The ships headed toward Easter Island, but the winds did not favor this decision. The sailors now knew their coordinates, but it didn't matter much, especially to Joy, whose bowels had ceased to function. 11 days after leaving Henderson Island, they were only 600 miles closer to the coast and Joy wanted to be moved into the captain's boat. He was from an old Quaker family and wanted to be among his own people, Nantucketers, when he passed.

He had married outside of the Society of Friends, and was dutifully disowned, but he demonstrated the sense of duty and devotion of a Quaker. He asked to be transferred back to his crew after two days, and he died in their company at 4pm. His duty to his crew was stronger than his need for comfort, it seems. They held a funeral in which they tied his feet to a stone and consigned him to the ocean. Pollard assigned Obed Hendricks to take command of the leaderless boat, which was when they noticed that Joy's illness had prevented him from keeping good watch over the provisions. There were only two days left of hardtack.

Terrific gales and squalls engulfed their daily lives, but they dreaded nothing as much as death by starvation. The boats drifted apart once again and it became clear that, with over 1200 miles to go, they would need to cut provisions down again.

Hendricks and his crew ran out of food and Pollard, who had only recently reassigned Hendricks to this boat, could not easily deny them a share of his hardtack. Chase's boat was out of visibility and safe from this painful decision. There were only a few days left before these boats would run completely out of sustenance.

The wind died to a standstill and Chase's crew tore down the sails to hide their bodies from the elements. Their rations had been cut in half again and they were truly at the mercy of the waves. One of the crew informed Chase that Richard Peterson, the old black man who had led them in prayer so many nights, had stolen some bread. Chase leapt to his feet and pointed the gun, to which Peterson reacted by immediately giving back the bread and pleading for forgiveness, saying that his starvation had prompted him to do it. Although an example should have been made, Chase could not punish the old man.

The next morning the men went back to their routines of either nibbling at their tack throughout the morning, trying to make it last as long as possible, or of swallowing it whole to trick their stomachs into a sensation of fullness. In both cases, they incessantly licked their fingers afterward.

When a shark began to circle around their boat, Chase did not have the strength to even dent its thick skin with his lance. They were resolved that it had been their destiny to die out on the sea. They could not even eat what was theirs for the taking. The sounds of sperm whales filled the evening air, followed by a most frightening storm. That next day, Peterson refused his ration of bread, declaring that it was his time to die and it may be of use to somebody else. Painlessly and silently, Peterson passed from this earth and joined Joy in the sea.


The question of this chapter seems to be the following. What is more important: your own survival, or the survival of the crew as a whole? Pollard's boat suffered much for their decision to give hard tack to Joy's boat after his death. Considering that Chase's crew cut rations down in half again and they were not even in the proximity of Joy's boat when they learned of the missing tack, the hardships had arrived at an incredible low.

As usual, new hardships bring about the necessity to reflect on morals. When Peterson stole extra hard tack, Chase withheld his authoritative duty, a move that established him not only as a valiant leader, but also an empathetic leader. Chase was developing the balance of a good leader in a time of ultimate desperation.

The deaths on these boats also bring up a key problem, which is that, regardless of how unconscionable, the death of a sailor meant that the men had access to fresh meat. Their decision to consign these bodies to the sea would have just as dire consequences as the sharing of hard tack earlier. The men did not even have the strength to catch large meaty creatures near the boat, so clearly, this was their only option.