Writing, Identity, & Queer Studies

In & Out, Either/Or, and Everything In Between

Ship and the Sea

“Where am I? There is nothing here I recognize. This isn’t the world I know, the little ship I’ve trimmed and rigged.” (101)

When Elgin tells the narrator about Louise’s cancer everything they know is shaken, “Where am I? There is nothing here I recognize” (101). A couple lines before, “‘Louise tells me everything,’ I said coldly. ‘As I do her.’” (100), the narrator has this absolute certainty about their relationship with Louise, and to an extent a certainty about the world around them.

In this passage the narrator returns to the metaphor of a ship on the open seas. This is not the first time this metaphor of a ship on the seas is used “the journeys they made were beyond common sense; who leaves the hearth for the open sea? especially without a compass, especially in winter, especially alone” (81), but it is the first time it is used in a negative manner. For the narrator their relationship is an exploration of something new; Louise is the ocean and the narrator a ship. This metaphor is commonly used during sex, the first time the narrator begs Louise to let them “sail in you over the spirited waves” (80).

For the narrator Elgin took the map they had so carefully and painstakingly drawn and ripped it apart, “this isn’t the world I know, the little ship I’ve trimmed and rigged” (101).

This passage is about the narrator’s loss of balance and certainty in everything.  This relates to the whole of novel  because for the first we saw the narrator passionate and in love with someone just as passionately in love with them, the first person we know of that chose them, possibly the first time the narrator truly was loved by their partner as more than a dirty little secret. And now the narrator is faced with losing this, and not just to another person but to death.

2 Comments

  1. westcoastbesttoast

    September 24, 2018 at 10:56 pm

    The repetition of sea metaphors throughout the book were indeed in a mostly positive light. This selected passage can also depict the power dynamic between Louise and the narrator. As you’ve mentioned before, Louise is seen as the ocean, and the narrator the ship. This can indicate that the narrator believes that they should (and quite possibly already have) control of the relationship. Furthermore, the words “I’ve trimmed and rigged” subjectify Louise as merely something for the narrator to mold and take control of.

  2. Expanding on the ideas that you present, when I think of the quote “Where am I? There is nothing here I recognize” (101). I picture someone lost at sea, with their ship sinking. I think that the reference that you present of Louise as the ocean and the narrator to be the ship as correct, but I also can see this metaphor as Louise as the ship and the narrator as the captain (non-gendered) of the ship. I see Elgin as the ocean, tearing apart the ship. I picture the captain at sea in a storm, and the boat is failing them. The boat (Louise) was something the captain treasured dearly. They thought that they knew the boat and its capabilities well, but in the blink of an eye the boat was going under. Elgin, the monstrous waves, is what caused this initial storm. Just as the ship was disappearing to the sea, so was Louise from the narrator’s life.

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