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Sir Ernest Shackleton's Miraculous Escape from Antarctica as Captivity Narrative: "The Grip of the Ice" Matthew Teorey University of New Mexico ... I think that though failure in the actual accomplishment must be recorded, there are chapters in this book of high adventure, strenuous days, lonely nights, unique experiences, and, above all, records of unflinching determination, supreme loyalty, and generous self-sacrifice on the part of my men which, even in these days that have witnessed the sacrifices of nations and regardlessness of self on the part of individuals, still will be of interest to readers who now turn gladly from the red horror of war. —Shackleton, "Preface" to South, vii. THE LITERARY ESTABLISHMENT considers Ernest Shackleton 's South (1920), as it once considered Mary Rowlandson's A Narrative of the Captivity and Restoration of Mrs. Mary Rowlandson (1682), an exclusively historical and scientific chronicle of events and observations. However, because the captivity narrative has become a foundational genre of American literature, many critics now consider Rowlandson's text the prototypical, even archetypal, literary work of the genre.1 Joe Snader argues that the captivity narrative also should be considered a foundational genre of British literature. As the passage from Shackleton 's preface shows, he considered his narrative about captivity in the ice of Antarctica a literary document. He also indicates that, like Rowlandson, he considered his captivity a personally transformative experience from which he gained a deeper ethnocentric, religious, and nationalistic self-identity. Both captive-authors illustrate how white, English imperialists used language to construct their conception of the "other" and other lands; they consciously use the words, imagery, and philosophies of literature and religion to explain to contemporary readers that to conquer the "other" one must simultaneously resist and adapt to its foreignness. Shackleton's narrative should be read as a literary text, and I propose to recover it as an important addition to the Brit273 The Long, Long Night By F. Hurley Frontispiece to South TEOREY : SHACKLETON ish captivity narrative genre.2 Comparisons with Rowlandson will be instructive. Snader, Linda Colley, and Nabil Matar have recently encouraged scholars to acknowledge the rich captivity tradition in British literature . Certainly accounts of Native American captors in North America are important, but these critics argue that the captivity narrative genre's English roots extend back to the Middle Ages and out to British exploration of Africa, the Middle East, and southern Asia. In addition, Snader posits that early British captivity narratives constituted "an adaptable, expansive genre,"3 which included different types of captivity and significantly influenced the English novel.4 Shackleton's captivity in the ice fits into the captivity narrative genre because even though the traditional captor actually was a human being, the traditional captive also considered the captor a dehumanized "other"—a strange, savage, dangerous force that was part of a foreign, treacherous wilderness. Shackleton follows the British captivity narrative tradition, as Matar and Snader define it, by being a male captive who describes his physical, spiritual, and cultural crises while in captivity . Shackleton's physical and spiritual redemption causes him to assert his Anglo-Christian identity self-righteously; he follows Snader's definition of a true British captivity narrative by "turning an alienated experience of cultural abjection to personal and national triumph."5 This process includes an adaptation of the captive's cultural values in order to survive physically and a reaffirmation of the religious and ethnic elements of his identity to survive psychologically. Both Rowlandson and Shackleton assume an attitude of nationalistic destiny and cultural superiority by literally and metaphorically claiming a new territory for their country. Matar writes that captivity narratives were adventure stories and government documents that provided imperial England with geographic and cultural information. Shackleton reinvents the archetypal captivity narrative, locating it on Antarctica and using the literary styles and Christianized imperial messages that are similar to Rowlandson's. For example, in both narratives , the "humans"—white, Christian, rational, and English—use a combination of racial privilege and personal will to survive the wilderness , proving their superiority and their right to subdue the "other," an inferior and often voiceless subaltern. Both captive-authors treat their activity as a sacred, adventurous mission into the...


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pp. 273-291
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Will Be Archived 2021
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