Literature Study GuidesIn The Heart Of The Sea

In the Heart of the Sea | Study Guide

Nathaniel Philbrick

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Course Hero. "In the Heart of the Sea Study Guide." Course Hero. 14 Dec. 2017. Web. 1 July 2022. <>.

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Course Hero. (2017, December 14). In the Heart of the Sea Study Guide. In Course Hero. Retrieved July 1, 2022, from

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Course Hero. "In the Heart of the Sea Study Guide." December 14, 2017. Accessed July 1, 2022.


Course Hero, "In the Heart of the Sea Study Guide," December 14, 2017, accessed July 1, 2022,


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Nathaniel Philbrick

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At a Glance

Nathaniel Philbrick uses a variety of sources to provide an updated version of the famous tale of regarding the wreck of the Essex, details of which found their way into American writer Herman Melville's Moby-Dick (1851). The definitive account for many years was written by first mate Owen Chase. A work of scholarship by Thomas Heffernan, Stove by a Whale: Owen Chase and the Essex, appeared in 1981. But a new account surfaced and was published in 1984, written by the ship's cabin boy, Thomas Nickerson. Philbrick uses a novelistic approach to the material and makes liberal use of both Chase's and Nickerson's accounts to provide the most complete picture yet of this haunting story that serves as both a testament to human endurance and a cautionary tale of hubris.

Perspective and Narrator

The narration of In the Heart of the Sea is written in third person but cites excerpts from first-person accounts of the disaster of the whaleship Essex written by first mate Owen Chase, cabin boy Thomas Nickerson, and others.

About the Title

The title, In the Heart of the Sea, references a passage from Exodus (15:8) in the Hebrew Bible, in which God parts the waters of the sea for the Israelites as they flee Egypt: "By the blast of thy nostrils the waters piled up. The surging waters stood up like a wall; the deep waters congealed in the heart of the sea." The Biblical reference is biting, however, since God seems to be absent during the plight of the Quaker whalemen, who find themselves stranded on the sea, far from home, with no whisper of divine help. The subtitle, The Tragedy of the Whaleship Essex, refers to the tragedy and its terrible aftermath of starvation, death, and finally cannibalism, as survivors in the boats fight to stay alive.


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