they choose what garments to wear. if they clothe themselves in old values, the castaways choose those values

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They blink the saltwater from their eyes and look at each other anew. They begin the work of drying out, of salvage, of clothing themselves. As they never have before, they choose what garments to wear. The drapery of the Old World that carry the old markers of class and status? Or will the castaways dress themselves in something better suited to the desert island? Even if they clothe themselves in old values, the castaways choose those values that before were merely given or inherited. This is the radical, psychological result of shipwreck. Getting wet—at least metaphorically—allows people to “think through changing views of humanity and the natural world.”(Pg.265)

“‘The Gust”, oil painting by WILLEM VAN DE VELDE THE YOUNGER (1633-1707, Dutch)

It was on a Monday, Saint James’s Day, the twenty-fourth of July, 1609, that the storm swallowed the Third Supply. The best piece of William Strachey’s writing is the three-thousand-word account of the storm in his True Reportory. It’s far more compelling than the other eyewitness account, Jourdain Sylvester’s A Discovery of the Bermudas, Otherwise Called the Isle of Devils. Strachey was wider-traveled than all the settlers and probably more than some of the sailors.

And yet, he confessed, “all that I had ever suffered gathered together might not hold comparison with this.” Nothing “characterized” the strangeness “of the New World” as well as hurricanes, not even the exotic Indians themselves. “Sailing ships,” writes the Renaissance scholar Peter Hulme, “were absolutely helpless.” The “cyclonic form” of these Atlantic storms “defeated any possible nautical strategy.”

Europeans struggled to make sense of them. Words failed them. “What shall I say?” Strachey asked in his narrative. How could he describe the storm to his English readers? Nothing in their own experience could convey the “fury and rage” of these Atlantic “winds and seas,” nor the despair of the voyagers. If he had had the strength of fifty voices, Strachey complained, he could not convey the anguish in the “outcries” of the settlers. He lacked the words to capture the “languishing” and “wasting” of their spirit. Neither the English language nor fifty other Old World tongues, he explained, had the words to describe it. Europe had no word at all that could properly label the phenomenon. They needed a foreign word. Arawaks told the Spanish, and the Spanish told the English, so that in 1555 the term first appeared in an English text: “These tempests of the ayer,” wrote Richard Eden, “they call Furicanes.” Sir Walter Raleigh called the storm a “hurlecano.”1 (Pg.250)

(Alkmaar 1621-1675 Amsterdam)
A shipwreck on a rocky coast

No man was above another as gentlemen stripped down to their shirts and worked the pumps or plugged leaks or bailed water like the lowliest servant or laborer. Shipwreck detaches castaways from these previous marks of distinction. Each survivor floats alone in the briny deep, metaphorically and sometimes literally. But this suspension cannot last. Eventually the surf coughs up the refugee, feet find sand, and survivors stagger onto the beach. The desert island is truly terra incognita. Psychologically, survivors are disoriented. Metaphysically, they are lost. (Pg.264) A young woman named Elizabeth Persons had come on the voyage as the servant of a gentlewoman, Mistress Horton. In this extremity of hunger and exhaustion, after passing through the storm and wreck, did Elizabeth Persons, at the dawn of day, look first to her mistress’s needs or to her own? We don’t know.(Pg.266)

In some of the narratives the experience of shipwreck wipes the slate clean of authority, leaving each suvivor to decide how to associate with their fellows. Sometimes the principle of democracy—majority rule—peeps from the stories. Shocked by being wrecked; immersed in the struggle from reef to shore; washed clean, so to speak, of old habits of servitude; having been baptized anew by the salt water, after they struggle ashore and begin the work of salvage, castaways seemed to naturally resort to voting. (Pg.262)

Jobson’s Cove

Neither Strachey nor Jourdain discussed the details, which leaves us with several important unanswered questions. For example, how did the gentlemen secure their shelters? If a farmer could easily build a hut, this was the kind of work no gentleman in England would ever undertake. Did their common deliverance from the storm engender, at least for a little while, a spirit of generosity? Did the leveling evident during the storm, when gentlemen stripped to their shirts and bailed water, extend to the first days on the island? If so, the gentlemen would have been somewhat humbled, having to follow the lead of the men who had the proper skills, men who were otherwise their inferiors. Or did the gentlemen have their huts built for them? (Pg.269)

Maybe that’s why we’re so fascinated by shipwrecks and castaways. Readers “latched onto” Robinson Crusoe in the eighteenth century “for the same reason teenagers flocked to James Cameron’s Titanic in the summer of 1997.” According to the literary scholar Steven Mentz, both tales dramatize the tension between “our hopes for an ordered universe” and the “disorienting” effects of “the most powerful nonhuman actor in world history,” the “inhospitable sea.” Mentz, who has made a detailed study of shipwreck tales, both fictional and real, has concluded that they often follow a three-part psychological pattern: shock, immersion, and salvage. As a ship breaks apart, as the deck disappears underfoot, after the body is thrown away, cold seawater shocks the voyager. The slap of water insults his sense of a rightly ordered world. Then comes immersion: into the sea, that most inhuman, alien territory. “All forms of order,” even gravity, are put “in suspension.” Cultural values float away like so much wreckage. Differences of rank and title, privilege and inferiority, become flotsam, like the material debris detaching itself from the wreck and drifting away. (Pg.264)


Bermuda is a British island territory in the North Atlantic Ocean known for its pink-sand beaches such as Elbow Beach and Horseshoe Bay. Its massive Royal Naval Dockyard complex combines modern attractions like the interactive Dolphin Quest with maritime history at the National Museum of Bermuda. The island has a distinctive blend of British and American culture, which can be found in the capital, Hamilton.

Bermuda was originally discovered in 1503 by Spanish explorer Juan de Bermúdez. In 1609, the English Virginia Company, which had established Jamestown in Virginia two years earlier, permanently settled … Wikipedia

WE&P by EZorrilla.

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