A person’s writing and reading of writings can depict a lot about their character. Someone who really evaluates writings and is mindful in their reading of them, can show someone’s attention to detail or appreciation for other’s hard work and dedication. Someone who is distant and not engaged in what they are reading can give light to a person who does not pay attention to detail and rushes through life, someone who does not have time or patience to stop and smell the flowers, to read the fine print. In The Whale by Samuel Hunter, the reader engages with a variation of different types of readers and writers. Looking specifically at the protagonist Charlie and his daughter Ellie, she is his own flesh and blood his own creation, and yet their opinions on reading and writing vastly differ.
Debilitated by his obesity, Charlie’s occupation of teaching “online classes on expository writing” (pg. 11) can be seen as his way of reaching out and trying to impact other’s lives without having to leave the prison he has created for himself. Making it all too accessible for him to stay in the comfortable yet suffocating bubble that is his home, teaching online limited Charlie’s world so much that the reader only ever sees him sleeping or sitting in front of his computer typing. Writing and reading has overtaken his life, he has lost control of everything else in his life other than his student’s papers and grading and assigning more papers. When his wife has divorced him, his boyfriend has died, and his daughter pushes him away, Charlie turns to essays to try and find some connection. Whether this is connection to his students or connection to his daughter. In moments that the reader sees Charlie close to death, all he wants to do is listen to or read an essay about Moby Dick. An essay that to someone else may seem insignificant, as seen by when Elder Thomas reads it and questions why Charlie wants to hear this read rather than be sent to the hospital where he could be saved, “Because I thought I was dying. And I wanted to hear it one last time”(pg. 11). Seeing as this essay was more important to Charlie than being sent to the hospital and saved from death, it must have been written by someone very important to him, someone he loved very much who was worth more than his life to him.
The reader is not provided with many details about Ellie other than she presents as an angsty, rebellious teenager who does not particularly like her father or her mother. Like many teenagers, she presents a contrarian attitude when questioned about a poem she had read and written about in high school English class. Her father tries to engage Ellie in gaining an appreciation and understanding for the writing of the poem, but she argues she comprehends it perfectly. Ellie believes that if her interpretation of the poem is not similar to what her teacher presented, people react as if her comprehension of the poem is incorrect (pg. 33). She is strong in her decisions but possibly has predisposed thoughts and feelings about literature before she has truly giving it a chance, “maybe I understand exactly what this poem is about, but I just don’t care” (pg. 33). Her apathetic attitude towards opening her mind to further explore literature halts her chances of fully extracting all she can from the readings. Since Charlie has such a love and curiosity for literature, he only wants Ellie to exhibit a similar admiration and appreciation.