Themes and Meanings

(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

The subversion of male superiority that colors the story’s progress is balanced by its aim of personal fulfillment and freedom and by its positive feminine acts, revealed in the expedition’s command structure, in its making of a home, and in its emphasis on forethought over prowess.

The narrator’s natural human curiosity—the sort that might begin any story of travel—provides the first impetus to the Yelcho Expedition; she is drawn to “that strange continent, last Thule of the South, which lies on our maps and globes like a white cloud, a void, fringed here and there with scraps of coastline, dubious capes, supposititious islands, headlands that may or may not be there: Antarctica.” The expedition’s real justification, however, seems more specifically personal and feminine, the desire to break out of biologically and socially imposed limitations; this sense is revealed in the narrator’s grief for “those we had to leave behind to a life without danger, without uncertainty, without hope.” The freedom the women find on the ice of Antarctica is a freedom achieved by shedding familiar securities and points of reference, a freedom that leaves them with only themselves: “It was overcast, white weather, without shadows and without visible horizon or any feature to break the level; there was nothing to see at all. We had come to that white place on the map, that void, and there we flew and sang like sparrows.”


(The entire section is 425 words.)