Themes and Meanings

(Critical Guide to British Fiction)

The Lost Flying Boat works on two levels. Its plot is constructed along lines which characterize the popular adventure tale. Readers interested in the suspense of the treasure hunt may find sufficient satisfaction from the careful way in which Sillitoe depicts the series of events that build to the exciting climax. Nevertheless, it is clear that Sillitoe is interested in more than adventure. The nature of the expedition, and the motivations of those who undertake it, suggest at least two themes that add resonance to the story.

One may see in this novel a dramatization of an age-old theme: The crew’s expedition is emblematic of man’s pursuit of ill-gotten wealth and the dire consequences of devoting oneself to such a goal. Man’s attempts to extract quick profit from his actions are doomed from the start; it is no wonder that, from the earliest pages of the novel, the reader can sense that this story will end tragically.

The novel also deals poignantly with the problem stated metaphorically by American writer Thomas Wolfe: “You can’t go home again.” This is a story of men trying to recapture something of their past, a glory and purpose which all of them felt once and which has evaporated from their lives. For the men who sign on with Bennett on this expedition to the Antarctic, the trip is an opportunity to regain a sense of worth that they felt when they worked together for themselves and for their country during World War II. Having found little of value in life after the war, they come together again in the hope that this new adventure will give them a sense of self-esteem as much as it will make them materially rich. The reader quickly recognizes, however, that they will be no more successful at gaining that objective than they will be of rescuing the treasure and retiring in luxury.