Clancy is a first-rate storyteller. He creates interesting characters, involves them in interesting events, and fills his plot with surprises and inventive challenges. In writing The Hunt for Red October, Clancy had two major difficulties to overcome. The first was the large number of characters and settings that his tale required; readers can quickly lose interest if they cannot keep track of the characters. The other difficulty was how to present all the technological information without bogging down the plot in technical details.
He solves the first problem by first sketching characters with bold images. The novel begins with its strongest character, Marko Ramius. By the end of the first page, Ramius is shown to be a "Captain First Rank" in the Soviet Navy who is a keen observer of his Arctic surroundings. By the end of "The First Day," , Ramius has been given a bold outline: He is thoughtful and strong willed and has a tragic past. Jack Ryan is similarly highlighted when first introduced. In less than a page, he is shown to be a scholarly family man and an unlikely hero. Not only are characters presented in sharp images, but they are given interesting problems to overcome. Thus readers can become interested in the exploits of several characters because each is clearly defined and active in the events of the novel.
The realistic portrayals of characters help humanize the technology. They are the focus of the story, and technology is...
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Ideas for Group Discussions
The Hunt for Red October is a big, wide-ranging novel with plenty of good topics for discussion presented in it. In fact, the biggest challenge to a discussion leader may be to keep the discussion of the novel focused. A discussion could easily wander through the technology of modern warfare to advanced technology in general and its effect on people, from cold war politics to international rivalries to internal American politics and how America's politics affects and is affected by international affairs, from Clancy's technique for structuring the novel to whether characters shape events or are shaped by them. Any major aspect of The Hunt for Red October could be discussed and debated for hours.
1. Why is the Red October's propulsion system as important as it is? Why are the Americans and Soviets worried about being able to hear each other's submarines?
2. How improbable is the plot? Could a warship like the Red October actually defect to the United States without the American public learning of it?
3. How well does Clancy explain the technology of modern submarines? Is The Hunt for Red October a novel only for readers interested in technology? Does it have other appeals besides its description of technology?
4. How in-depth is the characterization? Are Ramius, Ryan, and Mancuso credible characters?
5. What are the differing attitudes toward modern warfare of the Soviet, American,...
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The plot of The Hunt for Red October may focus on the attempt of a Soviet submarine captain and his officers to defect to the United States, but the reasons for the defection are social, not military. The motivations of characters and their interactions with each other are founded in Clancy's perceptions of Soviet and American societies. Marko Ramius, captain of the Russian submarine Red October, is a carefully drawn character. He is Lithuanian and the son of a powerful Communist Party leader. Much of his rise to his role as the Soviet Union's premier expert on submarine warfare has been based on his father's influence. Far from being grateful to his father and the Party, Ramius is troubled and angry. He is tormented by the memory of the time he told his father of the dissenting views of a schoolmate's father and of how that unfortunate man subsequently disappeared forever. His classmates shunned him as a snitch; as he grew up, he was denied comfort in the Roman Catholic church because the Communist Party brutally suppressed religious practices. To Ramius, his father was responsible for the suppression of Lithuanian culture, and he felt that he shared his father's guilt.
The Soviet Union is portrayed as an unhappy society in which variety of opinion and culture is impermissible. "Marxism-Leninism was a jealous god," writes Clancy, "tolerating no competing loyalties." Competence is usually determined by party loyalty, not proficiency in one's job....
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Clancy uses a device to create suspense that has been used many times before. He organizes his novel chronologically, each chapter covering the events of one day, beginning with "The First Day: Friday, 3 December." Perhaps the most famous book to use this device to organize its narrative and create suspense as times runs out on its characters is Fletcher Knebel and Charles W. Bailey II's Seven Days in May (1962), a political novel that chronicles the attempt by military officers to overthrow America's democracy and replace it with a dictatorship. Both The Hunt for Red October and Seven Days in May use the day-to-day, chapter-by-chapter device to keep readers apprised of what many characters are doing at the same time.
The Hunt for Red October is also one of many American novels to focus on the sea chase, such as Edward L. Beach's Run Silent, Run Deep (1955). It also owes much to numerous motion pictures about cat-and-mouse games between submarines and surface ships during World War II. Furthermore, the novel reflects the popularity of books about Cold War tensions, such as The Third World War: August 1985 (1978) by General Sir John Hackett, et al. Such novels play on the tensions between the superpowers and dramatize how future conflicts may be resolved.
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The Hunt for Red October introduces Jack Ryan, CIA officer. Patriot Games (1987) explains how he joined the CIA while protecting his family from Irish terrorists.
The Cardinal of the Kremlin (1988) tells of America's highest placed military spy in the Soviet Union — an aging war hero tormented by his betrayal of his country but determined to do what he can to bring the communist government. Ryan plays a role in saving Col. Mikhail Semyonovich Fiiitov's life and in the defection of the Soviet Union's Chief spy. All this is set against the backdrop of giant laser guns and space based antimissile technology.
Clear and Present Danger (1989) shifts away from the cold war to focus on the illicit drug trade. Columbian drug lords go so far as to assassinate the United States Attorney General. The American president declares that the drug lords represent a "Clear and Present Danger" to the United States, and the CIA and the U.S. military attack the trade on the ground and in the air. Ryan finds himself in a desperate fire fight as he helps extricate American soldiers treacherously abandoned in Columbia's jungles by a cruel, incompetent, self-important military bureaucrat who has ruined many lives in his climb to serving in the White House.
The Sum of All Fears (1991) tells of the terrifying plot by Palestinian terrorists to assassinate much of the top part of the United States government by...
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In 1990 Paramount released a motion picture version of The Hunt for Red October, starring Sean Connery as the Russian submarine skipper Marko Ramius, and Alec Baldwin as CIA agent Jack Ryan. Directed by John McTiernan, the film attracted generally favorable reviews. Much of the naval action and political intrigue was left out; motivations were simplified; and the plot was trimmed to a three way face-off between Ramius, Ryan, and Mancuso. The acting and cinematography are excellent throughout and the film garnered respectable box office figures.
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Bibliography (Magill's Survey of American Literature, Revised Edition)
Anderson, Patrick. “King of the ’Techno-Thriller.’” The New York Times Magazine, May 1, 1988, 54.
Cowley, Jason. “He Is the Most Popular Novelist on Earth.” New Statesman 130 (September 24, 2001): 2.
Greenberg, Martin H., ed. The Tom Clancy Companion. New York: Berkley Books, 1992.
Grossman, Lev. “Ten Questions for Tom Clancy.” Time 160 (July 29, 2002): 8.
Phillips, Christopher. “Red October’s Tom Clancy: After the Hunt.” Saturday Evening Post 263, no. 6 (September/October, 1991): 16-19.
Ryan, William F. “The Genesis of the Techno-Thriller.” Virginia Quarterly Review 69, no. 1 (Winter, 1991): 24 41.
Struckel, Katie. “A Conversation with Tom Clancy.” Writer’s Digest 81 (January, 2001): 20.
Terdoslavich, William. The Jack Ryan Agenda: Policy and Politics in the Novels of Tom Clancy—An Unauthorized Analysis. New York: Forge, 2005.
“The Tom Clancy Effect?” The Atlantic Monthly 294 (November, 2004): 59.
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