Literary Techniques

(Beacham's Encyclopedia of Popular Fiction)

Junger organizes his narrative around both spatial and chronological principles. The spatial development takes the reader out of Gloucester onto the open sea and then the narrative attention ranges widely across the North Atlantic, encompassing the swordfishing fleet, the sailing yacht Sartori, various freighters caught up in the storm, Sable Island and important coastal points, and even Caribbean weather systems which will eventually impact the North Atlantic. The chronology follows the last days of the Andrea Gail, but also goes back in time to the days of dory fishing off Georges Bank and literary and historical references from the nineteenth century (for example, to Moby Dick). Junger also courageously interrupts both spatial and chronological development with learned technical disquisitions on how waves form, how people drown, how boats turn over, and so on. These mixed developmental patterns and disquisitions are held together by a clear, forceful prose that nevertheless conveys great human feeling for the doomed fishermen whose story it records.

Junger also occupies a position somewhere in between pure factual reporting (as mentioned, he does not consider himself a journalist) and a novelist writing a dramatized version of a historical event. The author steadfastly resists the temptation of fictionalizing the last hours of Billy Tyne, Bobby Shatford, and the others, instead relying on parallel situations, both historical and...

(The entire section is 312 words.)

Ideas for Group Discussions

(Beacham's Encyclopedia of Popular Fiction)

Even Sebastian Junger was surprised at the success of his book, a project which might seem unpromising if described in a publisher's proposal: a nonfiction work, part narrative, part history, part technical description, which dramatizes the effects of a major storm which hit New England a decade earlier. For all the mixture of genres and approaches, Junger grounds his discussion in a number of traditions, including the sea disaster story and a narrative which celebrates a way of life, but also relies on carefully written set pieces about wave actions, weather phenomena, and fishing boats. It is the artful combination of these elements that brought success to the project.

1. How does Junger locate his discussion in the tradition of the sea disaster story? What reminders to the reader show the long history of disasters at sea?

2. Much popular fiction is escapist fare which avoids reminding readers of unpleasant realities. Junger goes in exactly the opposite direction, focusing on working class labor and tragic events. How does he create reader interest in an industry lacking almost all the qualities that make a profession dramatic or romantic?

3. How does Junger create sympathy for the gritty, sometimes pub-crawling fishermen whose lives he traces?

4. The book builds slowly, like the storm itself, before it gathers rhetorical force and sweeps its many subjects together. Trace this development by listing the general topics...

(The entire section is 374 words.)

Social Concerns

(Beacham's Encyclopedia of Popular Fiction)

The Perfect Storm, like Arthur Miller's classic play, Death of a Salesman, focuses the attention of the general public on the least noticed members of society, in this case the fishermen of Gloucester. The recurring phrase in Miller's work is "attention must be paid" to the life and death of Willy Loman, the salesman of the title who is a "low man" in his profession and in his life, an unimportant cog in a large mechanism that serves the interests of others. Whether consciously or not, Junger follows Miller's model of forcing us to pay attention to the common man, in this case the men who put fish on our tables, the usually anonymous workers in an extremely hazardous and low-paying industry whose agonies when things go wrong are rarely explored in the mass media. The Perfect Storm employs a wide variety of techniques to make sure that "attention is paid" to fishermen and their families; by its insistence on viewing its characters as complete human beings with full and complex lives, it forces readers to regard the loss of men at sea as more than just a filler news article on the inside pages of the newspaper.

The Perfect Storm begins with a two page chapter titled "Georges Bank, 1896," a short recapitulation of the despair a fisherman went through on a doomed boat in the nineteenth century. For most readers, recollections of the Rudyard Kipling Captains Courageous literary tradition remain vivid enough to sustain an awareness of how dangerous fishing was in the days of sail and oar, and Junger does describe some historical losses of vessels and men off Georges Bank and the Grand Banks. However, his point in doing so is the opposite of what readers might expect, not to celebrate twentieth century progress in safety but rather to show how fragile and tenuous modern safeguards actually are. A loss of electronics quickly sends a boat back to the nineteenth century, leaving its sailors unsure of their true location and completely ignorant of the changing conditions around them. While fishing boats are equipped with automatic distress signals known as EPIRBs, the device on the Andrea Gail, the boat whose loss is explored in The Perfect Storm, fails to function as it should. Sideband radio, weather faxes, even cellular phones serve to inform the fishing fleet of danger and to link individual boats into a network, but these communication devices which are so sturdy on land are far more vulnerable at sea. When an extraordinary storm puts men and machines under stress, the battle to survive the sea reverts to timeworn nautical strategies rather than to high-tech solutions.

The Perfect Storm also establishes how cavalier government and industry oversight of the fishing fleet can be. The Andrea Gail is a well set-up boat, but she has been modified to carry more fuel and supplies without benefit of testing or analysis of how these changes will affect her seaworthiness. An extended and carefully written disquisition on why and when boats founder makes readers appreciate how dangerous casual modifications to fishing boats can be, and even worse, how stability can be affected by where gear is stowed, how fish are stored in the holds, and how a captain...

(The entire section is 1315 words.)

Literary Precedents

(Beacham's Encyclopedia of Popular Fiction)

The Perfect Storm is in the tradition of the disaster story. Sometimes written as fiction, sometimes as researched historical fact, these stories trace the development of a natural disaster and give a precise accounting of its human costs.

Walter Lord's A Night to Remember (1955) is one of the most influential of modern disaster stories. It provides a chronological, moment by moment recreation of the sinking of the Titanic based on interviews of surviving passengers, so that readers experience a gripping you-are-there account of the last moments of the seemingly unsinkable great ship. Lord captures the ironies in details—a falling funnel that, while almost hitting a lifeboat, knocks it thirty yards away from the wreck, and thereby saves it from being sucked into the foundering ship's downpull; a survivor calmly riding the sinking vertical boat down until he can step into the sea without even getting his head wet while waiting to be successfully rescued. Lord's cold logic, dry, bitter wit, and meticulous scholarship set a high standard for others to follow.

Following in Lord's tradition A. A. Hoehling's They Sailed into Oblivion (1959) dramatically recounts more than twenty great sea disasters that shocked the world while William Hoffer's Saved! The Story of the Andrea Doria, the Greatest Sea Rescue in History (1979) recreates the events of the collision between the Stockholm and the Andrea...

(The entire section is 362 words.)

Related Titles

(Beacham's Encyclopedia of Popular Fiction)

A number of recent titles concern disasters at sea. Among them are John Protasio's To the Bottom of the Sea: True Accounts of Major Ship Disasters (1990), Edgar Haines's Disasters at Sea (1992), Rhoda Nottridge's Sea Disasters (1993), Keith Eastlake's Sea Disasters (1999), editor Logan Marshall's The Sinking of the Titanic & Great Sea Disasters (1998), William Allen's Accounts of Shipwreck and Other Disasters at Sea (Notable American Author Series-Part I, 1998), editor Phyllis Raybin Emert's Shipwrecks: The Sinking of the Titanic and Other Disasters at Sea (Perspectives on History Series, 1998), and Michael D. Cole's The Titanic: Disaster at Sea (American Disasters,...

(The entire section is 327 words.)


(Beacham's Encyclopedia of Popular Fiction)

The Perfect Storm was made into a film of the same name which premiered the summer of 2000. Bill Wittliff's screenplay focuses efficiently on the main ideas of the book, while state-of-the-art visual effects by Industrial Light and Magic translate a surprising amount of Junger's descriptions onto the screen. The film was directed and produced by Wolfgang Petersen and stars George Clooney, Mark Wahlberg, Diane Lane, and Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio.

(The entire section is 69 words.)