In Zong! By M. NourbeSe Philip the ocean is a very central theme. What the ocean represents is as dynamic as the ocean itself. In Moana, the ocean represents freedom and a break from tradition. In The Life of Pi, the ocean is a prison keeping Pi and the tiger trapped on their small boat. In my eyes, the ocean is a mystery, somewhere we don’t fully understand yet. Being on the ocean changes someone too. In Moana and The Life of Pi, being on the ocean caused them to grow up in a positive way. In Moby Dick the ocean drives Captain Ahab mad in his pursuit of the whale. All of these different views and experiences can be mashed together to give us a taste of Zong!.
First let’s look at our first taste of the ship, in the end of Citizen. The image as a whole evokes a feeling of Thalassophobia (fear of the ocean). The waves crashing against the boat makes me feel pessimistic about the future. I feel this can be representative to the conflict between civilization and the cruelty found in human nature. Specifically The way the boat (one of the advanced forms of transportation at the time) is just a toy compared to the wave and might of the ocean. Also fear inducing is the site of the fish eating the overboard slaves. A large component of thalassophobia is that you don’t know what’s underneath you. You can assume what you want about what’s swimming around you, but you don’t know for sure what they are and what their intentions are until too late. Like the slaves on the ship could only assume what the intentions of the crew was. Based on my background in a christian house, I also immediately thought the zoomed-in image was reminiscent of Hell. The scarlet reds imbued in the waves reminds me of dancing fires. The soulless eyes of the fish and awkward scaling of the birds carry haunting demonic forms. In this picture, the ocean is clearly not a good place to be. The author contrast this with the quote on page 2 “The sea was not a mask.” A mask is used in literature as a way to hide shame, such as in Lord of the Flies. In our text however we can’t let the crew use the ocean like this. We need to hold them accountable for their actions. As Turner seems to hint at the ocean being a cruel location where unspeakable horrors happen, Philip argues that the cruel location is in fact not the ocean, but the hearts of us.
Another aspect of water present is that water alters how we perceive things. At a metaphorical level, the shape of water is undefined and dynamic, much like the shapes of the poems themselves. This can be very confusing when first opening the book. I vividly remember taking my first look back in January, and immediately setting it back down as a problem for future Liam. The confusing shape of the poems also relates to how the Philip felt writing this piece. We learn in the end section that she wasn’t sure what the main focus of this paper would be. The internal conflict she felt could be seen as waves crashing over each other, as each idea she had was washed away by something else she wanted to do.
Question one: What does the ocean symbolize to you? Even if you don’t live near the ocean, what are ways you see it come up in literature?
Question two:What was your initial reaction to seeing the structure of the poems? What did the structure make you assume about the poems?