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Disaster and Transformation in Homer, Shakespeare, Defoe, and the Modern World

James Morrison

Publication Year: 2014

Shipwrecked: Disaster and Transformation in Homer, Shakespeare, Defoe, and the Modern World presents the first comparative study of notable literary shipwrecks from the past four thousand years, focusing on Homer’s Odyssey, Shakespeare’s The Tempest, and Defoe’s Robinson Crusoe. James V. Morrison considers the historical context as well as the “triggers” (such as the 1609 Bermuda shipwreck) that inspired some of these works, and modern responses such as novels (Golding’s Lord of the Flies, Coetzee’s Foe, and Gordon’s First on Mars, a science fiction version of the Crusoe story), movies, television (Forbidden Planet, Cast Away, and Lost), and the poetry and plays of Caribbean poets Derek Walcott and Aimé Césaire.The recurrent treatment of shipwrecks in the creative arts demonstrates an enduring fascination with this archetypal scene: a shipwreck survivor confronting the elements. It is remarkable, for example, that the characters in the 2004 television show Lostshare so many features with those from Homer’s Odyssey and Shakespeare’s The Tempest.For survivors who are stranded on an island for some period of time, shipwrecks often present the possibility of a change in political and social status—as well as romance and even paradise. In each of the major shipwreck narratives examined, the poet or novelist links the castaways’ arrival on a new shore with the possibility of a new sort of life. Readers will come to appreciate the shift in attitude toward the opportunities offered by shipwreck: older texts such as the Odyssey reveals a trajectory of returning to the previous order. In spite of enticing new temptations, Odysseus—and some of the survivors in The Tempest—revert to their previous lives, rejecting what many might consider paradise. Odysseus is reestablished as king; Prospero travels back to Milan. In such situations, we may more properly speak of potential transformations. In contrast, many recent shipwreck narratives instead embrace the possibility of a new sort of existence. That even now the shipwreck theme continues to be treated, in multiple media, testifies to its long-lasting appeal to a very wide audience.

Published by: University of Michigan Press

Title Page, Copyright Page, Dedication

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pp. i-viii


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pp. ix-x

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1. Shipwreck Narratives

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pp. 1-8

...Gennarino takes her toward the caves in one of the inflatable dinghies, though he warns that it is late, that the current is strong, and that the wind is against them. When the engine stalls, Raffaella assumes that they will be rescued, but Gennarino intones, “Speriamo” (Let’s hope so). They spend the...

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2. Shipwreck and Identity in Homer’s Odyssey

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pp. 9-29

...the Cyclops’ cave, when he vanishes from human society for seven years on Calypso’s island, and when he is forced to beg for food in his own home in Ithaca. Other features connected with Odysseus’ shipwrecks will be noted and considered more fully in later chapters, including storm descriptions, rebirth imagery, divine epiphanies, and the...

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3. Shipwreck and Opportunity from Ancient Egypt to the Modern Caribbean

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pp. 30-44

...This chapter explores the influence of the Homeric shipwreck and the figure of Odysseus, particularly his role as a single survivor, on works from antiquity and the modern world. Homer’s Odysseus chooses to return home rather than becoming immortal, yet shipwreck survivors in comparable works look more favorably on the opportunities...

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4. The Struggle for Power in Shakespeare’s The Tempest

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pp. 45-82

...romance, wealth, and immortality. In Shakespeare’s play, it is truly remarkable how many possible “reinventions of self ” are contemplated. Miranda and Ferdinand anticipate marriage; Sebastian plots to seize the throne by assassinating his brother, Alonso, king of Naples; Prospero’s claim to rule the island is disputed...

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5. Salvation, Power, and Freedom: Saint Paul, Caliban, and Voyages in Outer Space

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pp. 83-100

...The book of Acts relates the story of a onetime Pharisee named Saul who persecuted Christians, is converted on the road to Damascus, takes the name Paul, and works to convert Jews and non-Jews to Christianity. A crisis occurs when Paul is arrested by the Roman authorities and finds himself in danger of both legal charges and assassination attempts...

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6. Culture and Spiritual Rebirth in Defoe’s Robinson Crusoe

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pp. 101-138

...There are two areas of great interest. First, because he is alone, Crusoe must reestablish human civilization on the deserted island. Crusoe attempts to re-create the old world he was familiar with by “reinventing” human technological and cultural advances. A second remarkable feature is Crusoe’s spiritual rebirth, a transformation recounted...

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7. The Struggle for Survival in Philoctetes, Cast Away, and First on Mars

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pp. 139-156

...shelter, and possibly human companionship. Crusoe engages in a wide array of activities that recollect human cultural advances: hunting, toolmaking, agriculture, domesticating animals, and other endeavors. Yet as we have seen, he was extremely fortunate in obtaining tools and other materials from...

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8. Competing Narratives in Walcott’s Pantomime and Coetzee’s Foe

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pp. 157-179

...A recurrent feature of shipwreck narratives is that the survivor takes on the role of storyteller. Odysseus tells the Phaeacians of his adventures; Crusoe writes a chronicle; many critics have seen Prospero as both playwright and director of the events on his island. I here consider two relatively recent works that attempt to rewrite the story of Crusoe and Friday...

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9. Conflict, the Common Good, and Redemption in The Mysterious Island, Lord of the Flies, Lost, and Gilligan’s Island

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pp. 180-213

...terrible storm raging for five days carries them seven thousand miles to an island in the South Pacific. The balloon is in danger of splashing in the sea, so they jettison many of their supplies. Captain Cyrus Harding and the dog Top are lost in the water after a partial splashdown before they reach land. Shipwrecks (and now balloon...

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10. Shipwreck and the Selling of Paradise

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pp. 214-224

...The argument of this book has been that poets and writers use the shipwreck scenario to explore human nature, examine identity, and pursue the possibilities of transformation. The relationship between shipwreck and transformation manifests itself in various ways. For Odysseus, shipwrecks are an obstacle to regaining his former status; for those...


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pp. 225-238


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pp. 239-243

E-ISBN-13: 9780472120062
E-ISBN-10: 0472120069

Page Count: 240
Publication Year: 2014