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Weeks 12-13: Talking with Ahab's Wife

Anne Dalke's picture

What were your initial reactions to Ahab's Wife (the persona and the novel)?

How would you describe your relationship (with the character and the book)?

In what ways do you see this novel (not?) operating as a finale for this course about choice?

Not unrelatedly, for another tale of the ocean, see The (Tuna) Tragedy of the Commons.


hwiencek's picture


When we did that partner poem activity in class I had said that my theater teacher in high school had used this activity when we were studying script writing. I asked her about it the other day and this is what she said:

The reading comes from the Kieth Johnstone book "Impro." There's a chapter in it that is titled, "Narrative Skills." In a nutshell, Johnstone says that group writing (in his case -- word-at-a-time letters, remember that exercise?) goes through 4 stages. They are: 1. cautious, nonsensical, silly and full of concealed sexual references, 2. the letters are obscene and psychotic, 3. they are full of religious feeling, often grandiose, 4. they express loneliness and vulnerability -- the "truest" letters.
Yellow's picture

Final Thoughts after a Negative Posting

After discussing this book in our last class of the semester, it finally made sense how it fit into the course. Giles' Theory of the Impossibility of Impossibility was interesting, as was the struggle over accepting the act of cannibalism, but  I think this book was good as a point of discussion, a book club book, not something I would necessarily read on my own. Maybe next year the class could read all of the book?
xhan's picture


I think life often throws us different situations that we don’t often know how to handle at first. Issues like death of a loved one, abuse from one’s own father, and separation from  family are all very difficult situations to go through. Main character Una could not help  the tragedies that lay behind her and before her. The experiences that this sixteen year old girl had to endure makes it hard for any individual in her position not to be consumed by the trauma and travel a downward spiral. I think it was wise of Una to seek solace from the sea: she had to break free from the constraints of society to capture her own voice even if it meant temporarily isolating herself from her family, and pretending to be a boy.  By setting this time to revamp and re-evaluate her dreams, ideas, and ambitions, without the noise of external voices, and the allure of meeting social expectations, as well as the immediate needs of her family, so that she may be reconciled with her past as well as face the strife that the future may being.

swhitt's picture

Una v. Luna

I thought it was interesting in class how those of us who liked Prodigal Summer didn't care for Ahab's Wife and vice versa.  I prefer Ahab's Wife.  I'm more drawn to the writing style - the showing rather than telling - and also like the dramatic adventure that Una chooses more than the externally described internal navigations of a more stable life described in Prodigal Summer.  I also like the way the book deals matter-of-factly with horrifying situations (the cannibalism on the boat; the way Giles, Kit and Una band together against the others).  I identify with their survival choices, I think I might choose the same.  I also like the way that Una evaluates the people she encounters (the consideration of the crew she sees in Harry's lumpy pototatos, the goodness she appreciates in Captain Fry, the wildness she admires in Ahab, the imagination and intellect of Giles).  She appreciates the ways in which these qualities enrich and sustain her own experience.

My relation to the book is one of self-examination - I see a lot of myself in Una, though I don't know whether or not she and I would be friends. I might be suspicious of her, careful with her - she seems like someone who serves her own interests and I both respect that and recognize the tension that creates between her interests and others (possibly mine).

The book seems on point for our discussions of choice, particularly ethical choices.  Is it the individual's responsibility to promote the well-being of all or the well-being of themselves (and their own genes)? While Una chooses her adventure, she does not choose the course that leads to cannibalism (though she chooses to live rather than starve when faced with that predicament), nor does she choose Giles' death.  It leads back to the idea that we have limited control over external factors and great control over our personal response to same.

kscire's picture

Ahab's Wife

 My initial reaction the novel was that it's a pretty well written story but that the story was not very unique. I just felt like it was similar to other fictional novels. I reacted to Una as a character much better than the book as a whole. I think that her character is very unique in that she is so misplaced in the time period of the book. She's in the 19th century with modern ideas and thoughts. It's as if one of our classmates was put in her place. In that respect, the book was very original. Una is like a modern woman so I guess in some ways I am similar to her but I don't feel any special attachment to her story. I think that the book choice for the end of the course could have been different but I couldn't suggest anything that I think would work better. 


ebrennanpr's picture

Reactions & Finale


Initially, I reacted positively to Ahab’s wife.  As I began to read, I was allured by a life of exploration and of seafaring to distant places.  Una’s decision to disguise herself as a man was a risk that was also particularly appealing to me. At this point, I also held an idealistic and optimistic view of the journey ahead. I could identify with her risk-taking.  As a fan of whales, I stopped relating to Una when the whaling began. In terms of our course and the connection, the sequence of Una’s choices impact and forever change the course of her life.  Kit, Giles, and Una survive together from their cannibalistic experience, but they face the harsh moral implications of these decisions.  Una may have supported her decision to live, but I wonder just as Giles did whether this scarring of their consciences (especially Kit's) really made it worthwhile.

stephkim's picture

What were your initial

What were your initial reactions to Ahab's Wife (the persona and the novel)?

How would you describe your relationship (with the character and the book)?
In what ways do you see this novel (not?) operating as a finale for this course about choice?

Honestly, my initial reaction was confusion... I didn't know anything about this subject and didn't have a background information, more because I didn't read Moby Dick. I guess the concept was hard to grasp throughout the book. However, the book was easy to read with a natural-flowing style of writing. The diction and sentence fluency helped keep the reader going, even if the plot was a bit chaotic. As with Una, her adventurous and fearless characteristics are so different from mine, that I don't know how I would've reacted or responsed to such events.

I always saw this class as a discussion of choice. Whatever subject we talked about, choice seemed to be the main factor: whether we ate meat or not, chose to betray the other (Prisoner's Dilemma), which food we ate (caterpillars), what we believed (optical illusions), and even whether we conformed to cannibalism (even discussed in Ahab's Wife along with the journey across Utah/California). I honestly think that there could've been a different option for the finale of this course. Ahab's Wife does involve a lot of choice, but another book could've focused more on the reasons behind the choice, whether than Una simply acting on her instincts. I also wish that the last book was something that a lot of us could easily understand- perhaps because I didn't read Moby Dick or novels that helped form a background to Ahab's Wife, I wasn't able to fully grasp the idea and concepts behind this book.

jfahl's picture

An unexpected Finale in Ahab's Wife

My initial reaction to the novel is very different from my opinion now. In the beginning I felt like Ahab's wife was a flowery written Danielle Steal novel, with little to offer intellectually. Now, however, I am whistling a different tune. While the basis of novel is still, in my opinion, a fluffy fantasy about seagoing women. The pros have wrapped my attention, and I find myself continuing to go back to the novel, even though I had dismissed it. Our discussion in class about The True Confessions of Charlotte Doyle, ruined any chance of me enjoying Una's character, because she will never live up to the prepubescent girl, who captured my imagination over and over again. Una's character is less imaginative. Her stunning wit and beauty seems like a cop out, major characters need flaws. But I can easily make a connection from this book to the finale of our class. It is clear that choices Una makes directly affect her and the one's she loves. But her choices are so drastic, that they make for intriguing discussion.

eolecki's picture

Ahab's Wife-The Finale

The way we started reading Ahab's Wife was an interesting experience for me.  I can't really remember ever starting a book in the middle without knowing about the beginning.  I actually think reading the book this way enhanced the experience.  I was confused about what was going on and I wasn't sure who some of the characters were, but I still liked the book.  The whole plot is just interesting and entertaining and the writing style flows really well.  

It is pretty clear that the book operates around a huge choice that was made by Una, which would make it a natural ending to our course about choice.  There are a few other connections, such as cannibalism and also her description about preparing to food on the ship, but the thing that stuck out to me the most was that her actions were really just a result of her own choice.  There really wasn't a huge dramatic event that made her change her identity and run away on a whaling boat, she did it because she choose to, without any other prompt.  I think this is a good way to end the course because Una clearly explains most of her decisions, even smaller choices she makes and it shows decisions that made without much outside influence.  Una's decision to disguise herself as a boy and go on a whaling ship was a choice that she made completely on her own, and I think ending the course reading about such a choice is a great finale.    

akaltwasse's picture

tastes like chicken

Because our first selection of reading began on page 142 of Ahab's Wife, I was initially confused with the story.  My confusion, mostly, kept me intrigued and pushed me to keep reading to see if I could piece together Una's past.  Although we've all encountered stories with fed up women who drastically change lifestyles, Ahab's Wife is, to me, less of a cliche, perhaps because of the time period.  The rich writing style doesn't hurt, either.  I do feel that I can relate to Una in her desire for something more than she has, something more freeing, and an identity where she can express herself in ways she couldn't before.  This novel is an apt choice (har har, choice) to conclude our semester because of the enormous decision Una makes and its consequences, not to mention her resorting to cannibalism as the omnivore's ultimate dilemma.
jpfeiffer's picture

My initial reaction to

My initial reaction to Ahab's Wife was that I believed that overall, it was written very well. I think it was hard to develop a very strong emotion or response to the book as we had started reading it in the middle, yet, I liked the way the information was presented and the manner in which it was written. The sequence of events was logical, and the Una, as the protagonist, caught my attention greatly. I honestly do not think that I have any connection with the book. I believe that the only similarity between me and the book is the idea of the protagonist being a teenage girl. Beyond that, however, I could not fathom myself acting how Una did. Although she is an extremely indpendent female, and I would describe myself as independent, that is by far the only inkling of relation between me and her. I think that like the majority of this course, Ahab's Wife deals greatly with the idea of choice and the fact that we, as humans, are constantly surrounded by a plethora of choices. Already, Una made one of the most signficant choices of her life- for is she was discovered as being a female aboard the Sussex, her life would ultimately be taken. I think that her devotion to her choice epitomizes the idea that is held within this course concerning choice.
Shoshi's picture

Its a good story, but I find

Its a good story, but I find myself constantly confused due to not having enough background on the characters. Una is a rebellious teenage girl, trying to escape the control of her parents. I think that most girls, myself included, had their rebellious stage in their teens, arounf the same age as Una. Therefore, I identify with her need for freedom. I think the novel is a good way to wrap up the class because she makes very different choices from those that are normally offered to females in her time.
lwacker's picture

Blubber, Biscuits and a Babe; Ahab's Wife

What were your initial reactions to Ahab's Wife (the persona and the novel)?

    I thoroughly enjoyed Ahab's Wife. After reading only one or two chapters I anticipated that I would like the rest of the book, and have gladly found that my predication has come true. I was so captivated by Naslund's style of introducing descriptive imagery and important plot points that I have continued to underline compelling sentences as well as passages in the book. As well, I found her use of oftentimes archaic, traditional and unusual seafaring terminology to be a wonderful addition to the text' visual imagery.

How would you describe your relationship (with the character and the book)?

    Thus far in the reading I have found Una to be a very interesting character. I see it as being very likely, almost impossible, that a woman under her" conditions" would have been the intellectual equal if not superiors of men such as Kit and Giles. Although we yet to understand how Una came to be so intelligent and worldly beyond her years and experiences I sincerely doubt that it was because she just happened to be in the right places at the right time. However, I am very committed to seeing the character of Una throughout the novel.

In what ways do you see this novel operating as a finale for this course about choice?

   It seems very simple to how the novel serves as the final connecter, stepping-stone, call it what you will, between the initial introduction of the ideology of choice and it's implication to a "real" person's direct path in life. Clearly Una decides to leave the Lighthouse and her Aunt and Uncle, where she seemed to be quite comfortable, for a new life. So she therefore choose to actively seek out something better then she had before. As well, Una pre-meditates how she will implement her choice of boarding the Sussex when deciding her best method of disguise etc.  


nmackow's picture

Oh, Una.

Upon reading Ahab’s Wife and starting in the middle of the story, I was confused. Una is a complex character whose persona is highly dependent on both the person she was in the past and on the person she will be. I found it frustrating to read only certain snippets of her life and desired to know her whole story. I wanted to know why she was following Giles and Kit onto a boat and why she felt the need to play dress up. I wanted to know the dark details of her past that were hinted at so subtly in our chose passage. Lastly, I wanted to know about her future; her life with Ahab and beyond. So I’ve started to read the novel from the beginning and will continue to the end.

Despite my interest in the novel, I cannot relate to Una at all. Other than the fact that we are both teenage women, we have nothing in common. But perhaps it is this fact that so draws me to Naslund’s character. I’ve simply never encountered such a woman and I am highly fascinated by each move she makes. She seems both more rational than any man thus far mentioned, yet intensely mad and reckless (as her determination to up and leave her family and her increased desire for food and Kit’s company show). At the moment, she is an enigma that I want to learn more about.

Superficially, this novel relates to the course in that it mentions cannibalism and a certain bit of the omnivore’s dilemma (as her family does not eat the animals they own unless they die of natural causes). Perhaps more profoundly, the novel touches upon the subject of choice. Una seems to be choosing her own destiny. She leaves her Aunt and Uncle’s to follow two men, dresses as a boy, works on a ship, eats human flesh, marries Kit, survives, survives, survives. She does not let the ethics of her cannibalism tear her mind apart, though she could have easily succumbed to the madness within as did Kit and Giles. These are choices, and our course veered onto this topic and never quite abandoned it. However, I think I shall need to read a bit further into Naslund’s novel in order to complete my thoughts. Perhaps Una isn’t choosing her own destiny. Perhaps she was always going to be with Ahab? Is this fate?
aybala50's picture

Ahab's Wife

My first impression about this novel was that I liked it a lot! I could tell in class that there were very diverse opinions about this book. When I read the first assignment I got the impression that Una was a very strong personality. She left her life behind because she didn't like the way it was. I would argue that only a very strong person can leave a life behind in such a way and just jump into a whole new life, a whole new identity. 

How would I describe my relationship with the book and the characters? In class I was arguing that a person can find a connection with any story they read. This is how the interpretation of a book happens. I interpreted Ahab's Wife to match my own psyche. I interpreted Una as a character that is very strong and brave, because it's possible that I want to be that way. Or it is also possible that I would like to leave everything behind the way she did. I don't really know how I connect to this novel or Una. I do know that throughout the excerpts we read I found little details that I could connect to my life and my personality. 

There are so many aspects to this book that connects a lot of what we've learned in this course. Choice. Though the effects of choices we make in our daily lives and the consequences of these choices are more apparent to me after this course, this book is a great example of what choices can do. Cannibalism involves choices that strain a human brain beyond what I believe the brain is capable of handling. The book shows the fight between the physical need and the psychological strain. While in a starving state choosing whether to eat a fellow human or not is a decision that characters in this book had to make. This raises the question, do humans have control over their bodies? Or after the absence of nutrition does the physical body take charge over our mind and actions? It is hard to imagine myself in such a situation, but in all honesty, I don't know if I would be strong enough to push away any form of nutrition in a physical state such as starving, even if it was the bloody remnants of a fellow human. 

mlapiana's picture

A Finale to a Course on Choice

In Ahab's Wife, Una's choice to leave her limited life as a woman and pose as a cabin boy on the ship came from her bravery, need for freedom and rejection of the societal norms in Kentucky at the time. Her choice is a radical and risky one and involves a large amount of trickery and lies. Una is willing to sacrifice her honesty and her identity as a woman to obtain freedom. Essentially, she is yurning for a freedom of choice. As a privlidged American living in the 21st century, it is hard to relate to her lack of choices because we have so many choices-too many infact! Nevertheless, Naslund's writing is compelling and therefore I was able to relate to Una's internal struggles and aspirations. Understanding the choices that we make is in a sense a form of self-control because if we understand the reasoning behind the choice we can revaluate our reasoning and perhaps change our choice. We make choices every minute of eveyday but it is the important/big choices that require reflection and revaluation.
Like many said I would have liked to start the book earlier in the semester and hava read all of it.
lwscott's picture


I found myself getting extremely frustrated with this novel right up to the end (aka chapter 54). I would read something that would make no sense, run to Leigh's room, demand that she explain it to me, and she would respond saying "It will all make sense in the end." By the end of chapter 54 I still felt like my questions hadn't been answered. 

When I would begin a chapter was confused about whether it was a flash-back or the present. Naslund would describe a scene but it wouldn't be until 2 paragraphs later that I would actually understand what was going on. I can see how this anticipation could be excited for some people but for me it was just very distressing. 

My initial reaction to the novel was to connect it to the story about the Uruguayan rugby team and the Doner Party. Families and friends were more likely to survive because they cared about each other and wouldn't resort to eating each other. Una, Kit, and Giles were about to survive by allying with each other. 

Despite my criticisms this novel works well as a finale for the course because it emphasizes human choice and how it effects our lives. Una makes many extremely choices throughout the short excerpts that we read. She leaves home dresses as a man and joins a ships crew. She chooses to ate other human beings in order to stay alive. She is constantly choosing between Kit and Giles and how she loves more. She chooses to marry Kit. This novel does a good job of showing how people's circumstances drastically effect their choices.


(Not that this question has a definite answer butt: Do you think the myth that women are bad luck on ship is true? Can Una be blamed for the whale's attack on this ship?)

mkmerrill's picture


Initially, I didn't like Ahab's wife.  I didn't feel that I connected to Una or her situation and that only increased my distaste for the novel (I also think that if I read the novel from beginning to end I might have had a better connection with the main character).  I knew that Una made the choice to go aboard the Sussex possed as a boy, but I didn't really understand her reasoning behind her choice.  Through our discussion in class I felt I better understood why Una made the decision to leave her family and venture out on her own.  As I came to understand her need to escape what she thought to be the predestined future for a woman in Kentucky (a life of solitude and continued sorrow) I was better able to relate to the choices she made.  I saw her decision to leave her family as a step toward her own personal freedom.  She wanted to get out into the world and experience life in a way she could only dream of if she had stayed in Kentucky.  I found that I related more to Una in the sense that I too would go to drastic measures to live the life I wanted to live rather than settle for a life a didn't want, but as we read more into the novel I felt that I connected less and less with her character (especially following their rescue from the small whale boat) .  I didn't like how Una was so quick to agree to marry Kit and how she just kind of let things happen.  It seemed to go agaisnt her earlier "take charge" attitude.  So in the end my opinion about the novel remained the same.

Overall, I think this novel was a pretty good finale because it was all about how the choices Una made affected her life.  I feel that this novel as Lee says depicts choice to the extreme, but I feel that it does a good job of portraying the importance of even small scale choices that we make on a daily basis and how the choices we make can change the way we live our lives.

hwiencek's picture

I enjoyed reading this

I enjoyed reading this excerpt from Ahab's Wife, but I agree wholeheartedly with Courtney that reading the whole book is always a much better idea.  However, I did find this excerpt very compelling--but mainly the 3rd day's reading (pgs 209-253).  I agree with what some people said in class that the way the writing style changes with Una's mind was very engaging and made the character more relatable.  I feel very connected with Una (maybe it is just a function of first person) but my heart felt heavy with Una as she transferred over to the Pequod.  I found it interesting that I did not feel as heavy with the death of Giles, but when I took time to think about it I think that it may be because I did not feel the pain through Una, she was only describing Kit's pain.  So, I would say Una's character is very effective.

As far as this reading being the culminating text for the class it makes perfect sense to me.  Everything links back to choice...and I'm starting to see that even in my own daily monotonous life everything is about choice.  Though some things seem like habit or necessity there is always choice involved. (I am probably very late in realizing this...)

However, one type of "choice" I don't think we really have discussed in class is the idea of loyalty.  I think that we very slightly touched upon it when discussing the advantages of groups against cannibalism (which we see in the book!), but I think we see a different type of loyalty connection between Una and Kit--maybe one more of duty.  It seemed to me that Una almost feels responsible for Kit and thus chooses to stay with him.

This also makes me realize that we didn't necessarily focus on the reasons behind choices rather than the impact of our choices.  We did read part of Nudge, but in my recollection very few of the other texts focused on the why.  I do understand that the impact of a choice is probably more important than the reason behind it, but maybe being more aware of why we make a decision (or want to act a certain way) will help us be more conscientious choosers.

mcchen's picture

Since I started the book

Since I started the book from the beginning and have continued to read past the assigned chapters, I feel as though I have a more complete sense of Una's character.  My initial reaction to the book was of confusion since it is told out of order starting from Una's miscarriage of her first child with Ahab.  I felt that the writing was choppy and hard to decipher at times, I also felt that it was especially slow in the beginning.  Although after reading past our assigned chapters I began to grow more interested in Una's life and how she comes to meet Ahab and her life with him. 

I admire Una's free spirit and strength throughout her story.  Normally I do not feel the need to personally connect with a character, but as long as I admire or dislike a portion of their qualities it will get me through the novel.  As I have continued to read this novel, I have gotten more and more attached to Una's story because I do not know how it will end so I keep reading because I am curious.

While there are many examples of choice throughout this novel, the first one that struck me and made me connect it back to the course was the part about cannibalism.  It interested me how Una, Kit and Giles all engaged in cannibalism and yet it was only Una that came out of it sane and accepted it as part of her past and essential for her survival at the time.  Una also chose to "not see" some of the whales because she did not feel it was necessary to slaughter another one when they had just finished a killing.  I thought this novel was a nice finale to this course about choice because it touches on so many aspects of choice such as whether or not we have a "free will" in this world, as well as choice of loyalties and choice of accepting new ideas. 

ihe's picture

Because I started from

Because I started from the first chapter, my initial reaction was that the story had a slow start. Even though the story does not pick up pace, I found myself wanting to know more about her life, because in a way I could definitely see parts of me in her. I think a lot of people all have a little bit of them in her, but do not realize it. I like how there is suspense in the novel. For example when Kit and Giles’s friendship was on hold, then Kit tells Giles he forgives him for what he did. However the author chooses to ignore that for a while, which made me want to read more of the book. I also liked the changes in narration from Una to Ahab to Starbuck…Etc. It's more interesting than Prodigal Summer's change in stories, because it’s more unpredictable. There's no repetitive to it but rather a kind of freshness.

I could definitely relate to Una in many ways. Maybe not what happened to her exactly or her actions per se, but rather thinking about the underlying reasons and explanations behind her actions and the decisions she makes: Staying together with Kit even when he goes mad, and deciding to lie to both her aunt and her mom, even though she's a very obedient girl.)

Una's world is a world filled with choices she has to make on her own. This novel has factors of constraints that society and her father sets upon her, ambiguous figures of her dream, not being nudged by her father and many other ones. I can see the whole course coming together with this book. She makes decisions that I wouldn't normally have to face (so far), so I have to take time to think about why she makes certain choices. For most of the time I can analyze her actions with the readings we've read and from what I learnt from writing my papers.

yhongo's picture

Una's choice

When I started reading the selected chapters in "Ahab's Wife", I was a bit confused about what was going on because I felt as if I was missing an important chunk of Una's life that was mentioned in the beginning of the book. Una starts off saying that she didn't want to sit and chat with her sisters because she was not like the typical girl. I sensed that Una did not have a strong relationship with her family and that she was more of an "outsider" from her family. That is why I think it was important for us to read from the beginning of the book to understand the psychology of Una's decision to leave her family. 

This book operates as a finale for this course about choice because Una faces many opportunities where she has to make important choices. Not only does she decide to lie to her mom about her destination, but she makes a choice of becoming a cabin boy. Even the idea of admitting to her true gender to Kit when he confronts her about it was Una's choice to do so. Una had the option of not revealing her identity to Kit but she believed that it would be okay to trust Kit. Trust itself is a big choice for someone to make.

Overall, I think this book is a great novel that pertains to our course, but for future reference, it may be better to start from the beginning of the book so that students can enjoy the whole story rather than reading select chapters especially towards the end of the course.  

emily's picture

choice and effect

My first reactions to the novel were of dislike. I do not really like the voice of the character, because of her 19th century persona which just seems a little cold to me. In the beginning, I wasn't really interested in what she was thinking. Like some of my other classmates who have already posted, I thought, "Here we go again...". It seemed to me like just another one of those books about a woman trying to prove herself in a world of men or thinking she was the first woman to do whatever she "chooses". 

While the voice of the narrator, Una, kind of bugs me, and the whole premise of her character from my first impressions annoy me too, I still can find a small connection to her, but only in a way which relates to what we've been learning in class. We have been constantly discussing if we can or cannot consciously control the direction of our own lives and I think Una is a case to consider within this. She says she wanted to make her own life, meaning she wanted to choose for herself what her life would be and not have someone else like her father choose for her. And yet she cannot control what happens to her, no matter what she chooses. In other words, she is not able to make the world as she chooses, rather, her choices lead to the reality of her own world. She may think she has freedom in her life by going to sea but that decision leads her to certain aspects which shape her life that she doesn't necessarily choose. Una shows that we can choose certain things that help shape happenings in our life, but we cannot control or choose the outcomes from that. 

I see this novel as a good finale for this course about choice, but I think we should have read the whole thing as I feel like we would have gotten a lot more out of it (as Leigh attests to).

cantaloupe's picture


I think it is never a good idea to read only a section of a novel; it is hard to appreciate and really understand the tone and plotline when I jump in halfway through.  In addition, the whole girl-dressing-up-like-a-boy-to-get-on-a-ship is such a cliche to me.  As soon as the novel turned to canabalism, I became more intrigued.  I appreciated the effect that the chapter with only two or three lines had when Una tried to block out, but couldn't, that she was sucking on blood.  That entire section did a good job of showing complete desperation.  I liked the dramatic ticks in the wood for the days going by without food.  I was upset that once Una was on the Alba Albatross, she was discovered as a woman and addressed as a woman.  It was never mentioned how this changed her entire plan.  I argue that this shows that Una is not completely free.  She can't choose her own life partly because she can't change her biological gender.  She is bound to it and therefore restricted on completely living a free life, especailly as a sailor.  In this way, the novel was a good finale to the class.  It incorporated canabalism and that aspect of choice (the desperate, raw side of choice) and incorporated free will (or lack there of).

While reading the selection, I felt completely distant from Una.  I didn't naturally connect myself to her.  Even now sitting here, I can't even force myself to see obvious connections to her person.  I guess I can relate to wanting to create her own life seperate from those that she knows.  She wants to break the gender expectation, but I argue that she does it in an ineffective way.  She breaks her gender expectations by hiding her gender.  Her choice for her own life is to lie.  I want to live my own life seperate from that that I was forseen to take as well, but I am doing that through pursuing higher education and celebrating my feminimity.

I don't completely dislike the book and I understand why it was our last book, but I possibly would have enjoyed it more if I read the whole thing.

mmg's picture

Ahab's Wife

Ahab's wife makes for a fairly interesting read. When I did start reading it seemed like another tale of a woman dressed as a man and trying to make it in a men's world. I found similarities with Moby Dick and Tom Sawyer. Something in the dressing up as a man also made it Shakespearean. So for the first few pages I was drawn into the similarities it had with other novels. As for Una's character, she is interesting, to an extent. Then she falls into the stereotype of every woman that does not like her limited existence and wants to escape it. Her adventurous and slightly idealistic streak did find me relating to her. Her relationships with Kit, Giles and Harry are interesting. She 

The novel did not give me something I had not already read or come across until we reach the part where the ship is wrecked and Una turns to cannibalism. Grotesque though it was, this is the part of the novel that intrigued me. While it is easy for me to first be disgusted by their acts, I do not really know what I would have done in the same situation, never having been even remotely in such a scenario.

I realise that this book is befitting a course that is named 'The Omnivore's Dilemma', for isn't it the unlimited choices that lie in front of us, omnivore's give us power, but also causes us immense anxiety? In the novel, Kit's dementia proves the latter point. 

Yellow's picture

Ahab's Wife

My initial reaction to the book was actually "oh god, not another girl dressing up as a boy." it was quite boring to read. especially everything about the ship life---stop talking about the mast and running into kit and giles.

her life is not hard. she has no fears, and no ambitions. i thought that by climbing the mast, she'd get scared. but no. and then she sees the captain of the other ship and flashes forward in voice about how she was going to marry him. please. if this book were trying to make a point about women being able to sail, then it wouldn't bring up this awful boss-secretary-like relationship. ugg.

after reading about the whale that broke the ship and the acts of cannibalism, i started to appreciate the book. it did a good job of covering the starvation and cannibalism. it reminded me of the Rhyme of the Ancient Mariner in imagery. 

As of now, im not sure how the book fits into our finale of the course. 

abhattacha's picture


1. I can relate with Una's desire to liberate herself from the confines of the life dictated by her gender . I find it less easy to empathize with her decision to run away to sea at a time when her mother had lost both a husband and an unborn child and needed her daughter as one woman does another . 2. Una's sensibility was that of a woman even if she rejected the typical script of a woman's life . Though the story of her life was unconventional and dramatic in many ways , the saga of her emotional journey with the men she met ( Ahab being one of them ) occupied center stage in her mind . As Lord Byron said , " Man's love is of man's life a thing apart , 'Tis woman's whole existence " . 3. Call it the optimism of youth , but I feel that while we cannot control the direction of our lives , we can certainly influence it significantly . We live life , life doesn't live us . Perhaps hindsight will force me to feel differently . Having said that , however , I feel that every choice we make brings with it other choices/dilemmas we may or may not anticipate . The cannibal's dilemma , for example , was more likely with certain choices such as the short cut taken by the Donner Party or Una's going to sea . 4. The ( Tuna ) Tragedy of the Commons again highlights the disquieting realization we have struggled with during this course . Man looking to satisfy his ever growing wants is a menace to this planet ; armed with the technology to do so , he is a disaster .
lraphael's picture

finding the mystery

When we previously read a few chapters, I
feel connected to Una. The novel was a mystery that kept unfolding to me
because we started to read a few chapters in the middle and not the beginning. When
I read the most recent reading assignment, my feelings of the novel changed
drastically. The mystery of Una’s life seemed to become strange and stranger,
and I wasn't sure if I should have naturally trusted Una as I did in the first
reading assignment. I felt as if my trust in her changed because of her cannibalism
and her marriage to Kit. When I discovered that they were on an abandoned ship,
everything I had felt about the story changed. I felt as if the old tale that
Una had been trying to prove wrong (women on board are bad luck) had come true.
I felt as if Una had not been a blessing on the ship like I had envisioned she
would be, instead she had been a burden. The most striking change in my
reaction to the novel were the images of the cannibalism. The images that
were flashed through the novel of her sucking on a finger and drinking blood,
and Giles having a saber and forcing the shipmen to wait their turn to die made
my stomach turn inside out. I felt as if the cannibalism had gone beyond
survival of the fittest, it was torturous and brutal. I felt as if I was
watching the mystery of Una's life unfold, and I wasn't happy with the outcome.
I wouldn't say the book filled me with disgust; it just made me sad. It made me
very sad to read how the captain took his life for his son, and by trying to
stun his son he had killed him. I felt as if the outcome of the story was
twisting into a very morbid story. While this reading assignment did not keep
me guessing about her life, the ending did. When she met Ahab, and had Ahab marry
her to Kit, everything seemed to get interesting again. I felt that the author
had made us feel that the book had taken a morbid turn so that we could
understand what the characters were feeling. I felt as if the meeting of Ahab
showed promise for the future for Una, but not for Kit. I feel as if Kit will
soon be out of the picture, and Una will try to create a new life for herself. Since
the change from happiness in the first reading assignment, to a melancholic
feeling in the most recent reading assignment was so drastic, it at first turned
me off to the novel. Now realizing that the change was essential to
understanding the characters, I once again feel connected to them because I
have no idea what I would do in a situation like that of the abandoned ship.
All in all, I really love the book and I connected with the characters that I
did not expect given the circumstances of the cannibalism. 
SaraO's picture

Ahab's Wife

My initial reactions were a bit muddled seeing as my initial reaction was to the middle of the book, not the beginning. We were immediately thrown into a complex story of a girl who's about to leave behind all elements of her own life to don a new persona and go on a ship. I immediately liked Una because I (as lame as this is about to sound) saw a bit of myself in her, her desire to just take off. It was also a relief to read a novel from that time period in which the main female character isn't swept off her feet by the romantic notions of love, she treats marriage very pragmatically. 

I personally identify with Una. Yet my relation to the book is not as clear. After having read snippets of Moby  Dick and seeing part of the movie, I was trying to recall Ahab's wife and confused when I couldn't remember her whatsoever. I think the book in itself is a good idea, and I like the ideas which have been applied to it (the feminist main character) simply because it is not what I would have anticipated. I would have thought Ahab's wife to be a meek little creature in the shadow of her fierce husband.

This novel is the indulgence, or the choice of the author to create a totally new story out of what she saw there. It is the execution of all of the choice we discussed, and therefore i think it is an appropriate end for our course.  


lraphael's picture


I think that the book is a great finale because it is about choice to an extreme. She leaves her society and goes to be on a ship, which is a choice that was unheard of at the time. She decides to become cannibalistic, when it is against all her gut reactions. She decides to get married, when she didn't believe in marriage earlier in the novel. She shows how choice can change with time, and how she had gone through so much in her life that it was okay to accept the change. I wish we could have read the whole book, but since we only read a few select chapters I did notice how she fought to be different in her life and make choices of her own -- and I feel like if I can take one thing from this class, it is to make my own informed decisions from the choices available and that is exactly what Una did in the novel.