Great Idea

Janelle Morris

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.


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4 Responses to Great Idea

  1. holliealexis says:

    I did not really expect Nicholas Johnson’s novel, Big Dead Place, to have so many indoor moments. I thought the novel would be about somebody doing something extraordinary in Antarctica. A lot of the moments are pretty trivial. In the first chapter the narrator describes how boring most of his time is. He tells his readers about how the people who stay in Antarctica entertained themselves. They gossip. He says that “the Galley was a hub of station gossip, a central plaza for the town’s gurgling fountain of undetected infractions and titillating punishments, an engine idling on old accounts of scandalous romances and employee misbehavior.

  2. heyitsmikalinda says:

    Beauty always has two sides. Even Antarctica, which has always been perceived as beautiful and untouched is also cold and harsh. For a realistic portrait of Antarctica, the author has to present both sides. This is also his job. Though he finds it exciting at first and wants to go there, the work can be tedious and even dangerous. His initial excitement wears off with the meaningless regulations and dull tasks. Like the dual nature of the continent, he must show both sides of his work. With any task or situation there is always a difference between the first and later perceptions of a situation.

  3. kateshar says:

    This is very interesting to me because I also felt this way. At the beginning I could not figure out whether he loved Antarctica or hated it. I also agree that he is trying to show a new view of Antarctica where there is actually life. In my section he shows the interpersonal communication between the workers and their petty rivalries and fears. His purpose for this is to show that the people actually do live a somewhat normal life in an environment that has traditionally been considered dead. These people have similar lives to those who live at any other research facility regardless of the climate. Many researchers live in dorms and have to deal with one another. Antarctica is no longer a place devoid of human life.

  4. lisaboo09 says:

    I agree that it was hard to figure out how he was feeling being in Antarctica. I felt that he needed to get used to being in this place that has very little human life. He does say in the beginning that if he could he would have gone there for free. I think that the experience he was hoping for made him nervous. I also think the stories of others who have been to Antarctica would make him scared. If I were going on a trip and it was possible I could face health issues I would think twice before going. He has the excited and the scared thoughts of being in such a “dead place”. Whether his opinion changes is a question I also have.

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