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A daily record of what I'm thinking about what I'm reading

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Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Some very odd things happenings in High Wind in Jamaica

Richard Hughes includes a passage in A High Wind in Jamaica in which he notes that it's impossible to understand the mind of a baby and nearly impossible to understand the mind of a child. Yes, true, at least for him - as the children in High Wind, the six Bas-Thornton children shipped off by their parents unescorted from Jamaica to London, sometime in the late 19th century. Their ship was taken by pirates and, despite reports that the pirates murdered the children, we learn quickly that they're doing just fine (although the oldest dies in an accident ashore). As noted in previous posts, their behavior is very peculiar, even by English standards: they folic in the rigging, play house and other games of the imagination, spend a lot of time befriending the animals about the ship (a pig, who's being fattened for the kill). There's not a word about longing for home, fear about their fate, fear and sorrow about the death of the oldest brother. Maybe this is typical behavior of the insouciant English youth of the class and era (as noted in yesterday's post), but I doubt that. Maybe they're suffering from Stockholm syndrome, helplessly identifying with their captors - but I would think they wouldn't do so from day one, and that there would be lots of conflict, disagreement, fear, and despair  - but they seem to be enjoying the cruise. Some very strange things begin to happen along the way: oldest daughter begins to awaken sexually, the crew gets the Captain drunk and he comes on to her, and she bites his thumb. Both feel peculiar shame and remorse and act like teenage lovers who've had a spat. Super odd. Same daughter (Elizabeth?) gets wound by a falling spike (dropped by younger sister - also odd); captain lovingly dresses her wound. While she's recovering, the pirates take another ship (this one carrying only circus animals - the pirates arrange a spectacle - lion v tiger - for the enjoyment of kids and crew. Extremely odd.) Spoiler here: While this is going on they imprison the captain of the captive ship in the room with Elizabeth; he tries to escape, and she stabs him to death. (The blame is later put on a younger sister, as they believe Elizabeth is too injured to have killed the man.) This is a great dramatic scene - but they only way to accept it is to imagine and believe that Elizabeth by this point in the journey is literally insane. No child would stab a bound man to death because he's trying to escape his captors - one would think she would try to get him to communicate with the outside world, to get word to their parents, and to authorities. I can understand her identifying with her captors, but not to her complete acquiescence in their imprisonment.

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