Christopher Martin is a crew member of the English destroyer The Wildebeest, which was just sunk by a German torpedo in the Mid-Atlantic. Martin does not make it into the safety boats that others manage to get aboard. He has his lifebelt on, however, and after the ship sinks, he works to inflate the belt. He succeeds in this, and then, in his own imagination, he manages to kick off his seaboots. Martin begins his struggle to survive in the Mid-Atlantic.
Martin is trying to keep mind and body together. At times, he transcends his physical situation and sees himself as pure mind. He has an enormous will to survive, and it is this struggle of will that readers encounter in the novel; Martin insists, “I will not die!”
After believing himself to have successfully removed his seaboots, Martin begins the impossible task of orienting himself in a reality in which the horizon is the same, no matter which way he looks. The first order of business is to get through the night. Without the aid of a compass, Martin has to wait until dawn to get a sense of where he is. He focuses on a “bright patch” against the sky; he decides that he is not far from the coast of North Africa.
The physical suffering that Martin endures is detailed in the opening seventy-five pages of the novel. Not only does Martin have to survive the blistering rays of the sun glinting off the ocean, but he also has to fight fatigue and the harsh effects of the saltwater. During this time, Martin’s mind flashes back to his memories of his friend and shipmate, Nathaniel. Nathaniel had seemed the least likely to survive, but, in Martin’s imagination, Nathaniel had made it into a lifeboat. Martin, who had been in the crow’s nest when the destroyer was hit, had called for Nathaniel’s help but received no immediate response. Martin now spends much of his psychic energy worrying that he did not give the correct call regarding the ship’s position and the position of the destroyer that had launched the fatal torpedo. He finally decides that he made the right call, and those thoughts no longer torment him.
Miraculously, Martin is washed up on a large cluster of rocks...
(The entire section is 894 words.)