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Letters from The Samantha
An interesting short story is "Letters from The Samantha" by Mark Helpin. This story tells the fascinating tale, in the form of never sent letters, of an ape brought aboard an iron-hulled sailing ship in 1909 by Samson Low, the ship?s captain. Although the author makes a point to tell the reader, through Samson Low, that the animal does not symbolize anything or mean anything, in fact, "He stands for nothing" (280), several arguments can be made to contradict this. One could argue that the ape symbolized the untamed and rarely used wild side of Samson Low through a comparison of their personalities, appearances, and the way they are treated by others. Samson Low was a captain of a ship owned by the Green Star Line. He is a stickler for rules and the proper code of conduct. When writing to his company, he reminds them of "the complete absence of disciplinary action against me" (271). This serves to highlight that he has never been in trouble or broken the rules. He is comfortable and comforted by his pattern of obedience and thinks others must be as well: "Though my subordinates sometimes complain, they are grateful no doubt, for my firm rule and tidiness" (271). His ship is always on time or even ahead of schedule. The picture painted is of a steady, reliable, conservative man who always does the appropriate thing in a situation. However, a typhoon the ship sails through reveals a different, less predictable side. When describing the typhoon, Samson thinks, "I confess that I have wished to be completely taken up by such a thing, to be lifted into the clouds?" (272). This is hardly the thought of a truly buttoned-down man. He also imagines surrendering to the seas, "But I have not, and will not." (272). While he seems content with his life, Samson Low?s secret yearnings sometimes show through. It is because of this Samson seems jealous of the ape and the things it has experienced. Samson has only dreamed while the ape has actually lived. The ape, when first aboard, climbs the rigging to the highest point from there he has a total view of the ship below and all that goes on much like a "pharaonic" captain would do. While in the rigging the ape shrieks and hollers frightening the crew until the captain climbs up to it. Although the captain maintains that he climbs merely to check the validity of his men?s arguments concerning the ferociousness of the creature, he seems to really enjoy a climb that he has not done in years. When they are face to face the ape, "? stopped his pantomime and, with a gentle and quizzical tilt of the head, looked me straight in the eyes." (275). After this moment the ape calms down. It would seem that the ape and captain?s reaction to one another is significant in that Samson sees something he recognizes and is unsettled by, while the ape see one who is like him and therefore relaxes. The ape and Samson seem to mirror each other in other areas as well. The ape is definitely not a human, he is covered with long orange hair, has sharp, pointed teeth, his "feet and hands are human in appearance except that they have a bulbous?look common to monkeys." (275). It is interesting to note that both beings are approximately 5? 10" tall. Perhaps the oddest fact concerning the ape is the fact that his eyes "are a bright, penetrating blue." (275). Theses blue eyes would seem like those of a human and give the creature a less animalistic quality. This could be why the captain has such an odd response when face to face with the ape. Although hungry, the ape, a vegetarian, won?t come down until the captain has ordered a special meal prepared. Surprisingly it is the captain?s favorite meal, enjoyed at a point in his life when he was less conservative. The ape devours the meal. The captain has this dish prepared, perhaps, because the ape reminds him of what he was and of the little recklessness he had as a young man. They are affected by their surroundings the same way. The heat also affects them similarly. Heat prostration has hit the captain and he suffers from very severe headaches for
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Chinese culture, Monkeys in Chinese culture, Samson, Ape Escape, ship sails, sailing ship, conservative man, tidiness, yearnings, star line, stickler, no doubt, wild side, subordinates, disciplinary action, short story, lows, obedience, typhoon, samantha, code of conduct, personalities, clouds, ships
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