Nicholas Johnson, Big Dead Place, pages 1-16
Johnson killed all of my assumptions on this novel in this first chapter. When hearing Antarctica, the last thing I think of is actual civilization there. I definitely don’t think of restaurants in this “big dead place,” but Johnson seemed to capture a different side of Antarctica, which was a bit confusing to me. I was not sure if he was trying to showcase a good or bad side to this place. At times he talks about the “drama” in on his job and the penguin watching, but other times he talks about more horrific stories of explorers of Antarctica before him. Is he mocking early explorers or showing the different outlooks on Antarctica then and now? I feel Johnson is just trying to show how Antarctica is no long seen as the “big dead place” it used to be.
First, like me, he had a few assumptions about Antarctica, but he says, “I would have worked for free my first summer, just to go to Antarctica,” (2). This just goes to show how he is excited to see this place, so much that he would have gone for free. That is definite interest. His assumptions are like those of the average person. He says, “I would not have been surprised to find myself shivering in a tent full of scientists or staggering through a blizzard pulling a sled” (3). Through his assumptions, I still feel a sense of excitement bubbling within the narrator. Instead of pulling a sled, he boards this huge vehicle with his crew on a trip out of town. Instead of seeing vast amounts of ice and snow, they encounter penguins, which seemed to be the highlight of his first summer. He says, “A wave of giddy hysteria swept through the group, and cameras began clicking” (5). He is enjoying himself here, unlike other explorers of Antarctica.
The narrator looks back on old explorers of Antarctica. The ship Endurance had crushed into the ice on Cape Evans and the survivors had a tremendous struggle. He says, “They traveled in blizzards. Frostbite covered their faces.”Members of this expedition talk about their “injuries.” He writes, “Mackintosh reported that his ear had turned a pale green and that his feet were ‘raw like steak.’ Fellow adventurer Ernest Joyce wrote that his nose was ‘one black blister’” (9). Later the narrator tells that the explorers had little food and that they only traveled about three miles in ten hour’s time. This, unfortunately, showcased the terrible side of Antarctica. There is no warm cuddly feeling of looking at penguins, or a voluntary action to visit Antarctica, like the narrator experienced.
By showcasing both views of Antarctica, I feel Johnson is showing the past and present of the continent. While the past has a more horrific view of Antarctica, nowadays this continent is doing some great things and people are literally volunteering to see it. People who visit are even seen as “celebs” back home. He, the narrator, talks about how saying he was in Antarctica for the summer was like a pick up line for a date or one night stand. Although he has a great view of Antarctica, this has only been because he only goes for the summer. At the end of my chapter he tells his fellow co-workers that he is staying for winter as well. I wonder if his thoughts will change.