Ship Breaker by Paolo Bacigalupi Book Review
German writer Erwin Sylvanus once said, “It’s easy enough to preach morality on a full belly.” The book Ship Breaker by Paolo Bacigalupi cleverly illustrates this idea. Morality is quite simply morality, it is not a subjective action. If we define morality as based on the circumstances, we are undermining the very grounds that morality stands on. At the beginning of the book, the main character Nailer realizes the importance of morality when Sloth neglects to help Nailer for her greed. This negative experience becomes a key factor in the decisions Nailer makes throughout the book. He refuses to harm Nita for monetary gain and later establishes a relationship of trust with Nita in which his feelings of care and love are reciprocated. The book Ship Breaker by Paolo Bacigalupi elucidates the theme of objective morality when Nailer does not harm Nita for wealth, Nailer risks everything to help Nita, and when Nita reciprocates Nailer’s feelings of care and concern.
The element of character motivation combined with the theme of objective morality is presented in the book Shipbreaker when Nailer refuses to cut off Nita’s fingers to obtain the most valued thing in his society. The text states, “Now though, the dark reek of the oil room filled his mind- the memory of being up to his neck in warm death staring up at Sloth high above him, her little LED paint mark glowing-salvation if only he could convince her, if only he could reach out and touch that part of her that cared for something other than herself”(Bacigalupi 99). In the exposition of the book, Sloth decides to ignore Nailer's cries for help so she can take over his job and gain more money. When Nailer was at Sloth’s mercy, she denied him mercy. The negative experiences in his life regarding Sloth and his father have led him to the realization that he does not want to follow in the footsteps of the people he resents. When he is contrasting the importance of human life with wealth, he has an unexpected gut feeling preventing him from making the wrong choice. He is realizing firsthand that human life has greater value than wealth. If Nailer had never been through that experience with Sloth, he would not have realized the importance of morality. He is able to see himself in Nita’s shoes, which propels him to make the right decision.
Furthermore, the theme of objective morality combined with the element of internal conflict is presented in the book when Nailer commits to helping Nita find her ship. Nailer leaves everything behind to go on a risky journey with a person that he is expected to resent in his society. “The smart thing was to give Nita up, to buy the safety he couldn’t beg for. But just handing her over to her enemies made him feel nauseous”(Bacigalupi 180). Nailer has an internal conflict in which money will give him freedom from his dad but he yet again chooses to make the right choice. By deciding to go with Nita, he has invited further trouble from his father. Objective morality is shown when it is easier or beneficial to make the wrong decision but the right decision prevails. It is easy for anyone to be moral in a situation that is in favor of them, but extremely difficult when the odds are against them. That is why it is critical to make the right decision in every circumstance, otherwise there is no basis for morality.
Consequently, the theme of objective morality combined with the element of characterization is presented in the book when Nita remains faithful to Nailer. The text states, “Nita stared at the hole above her. ‘I think we’re high enough.’ ‘Then jump!’ ‘What about you?’ ‘You have to go first. My ankle might not make it. When you get up, gimme a hand”’(Bacigalupi 313). Nita is very caring about Nailer which shows the element of characterization. Previously in the book, she would act like she was better than them and show off. Anyone would expect someone in the upper class in this society to be very selfish and only care about themselves. However, Nita defies those stereotypes when she shows her concern for Nailer. She was caring when she was bringing medicine for Nailer. This connects to the overarching theme that morality circles around. Nita could have decided to abandon Nailer so she would not be compelled to give him wealth, as many people would do. The element of characterization is developed throughout by showing her defying a stereotype and her increasing feelings towards Nailer. This helps the theme to develop because it is starting to show Nita’s reciprocation of Nailer’s concern.
To wrap up, the meaning of morality is illustrated in Ship Breaker by showing the importance of morality and that reaping the fruits of the actions that are made are inevitable. When Nailer decides not to harm Nita, this action is fuelled by the fact that he can see himself in Nita’s shoes. Nailer constructs a relationship with Nita in which care and loyalty are the foundations on which it was built upon. Although Nailer seems to be doing everything for Nita in the beginning, as we get closer to the end of the story we see that Nita is reciprocating Nailer's care. The importance of morality is vital to remember in today’s world where the definition of morality is never constant. Ben Shapiro quotes, “Without a clear moral vision, we devolve into moral relativism, and from there, into oblivion.” Moral Relativism consists of moral judgments that are only true from one particular standpoint. The problem with moral relativism is that it does not even convey the concept of morality since the definition of morality is meaningless. People should condemn all wrongdoings, not just wrongdoings of people that are in disagreement with. We see this today in contentious issues where the idea of subjective morality is applied to end a human life. We can also see the idea of subjective morality applied when members of political parties condemn violence in the opposite party, but neglect to acknowledge the violence occurring in their own party. If we wish to have a society in which righteousness reigns, we must discard the evil idea of moral relativism and strongly encourage the principles of objective morality.