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A Whale Hunt: How a Native American Village Did What No One Thought It Could


A Whale Hunt: How a Native American Village Did What No One Thought It Could Cover



Reading Group Guide

Reading Group Guide

A Whale Hunt By Robert Sullivan

Scribner, 0-684-86433-9, $25.00

"Marvelous...Sullivan has a very Ishmael-like talent for being both funny and generous, and at times A Whale Hunt reads like "Cool Runnings" meets "Northern Exposure."

— Nathaniel Philbrick, in The New York Times Book Review

"A rich story, at turns ironic and bemusing, sad and adventure of the imagination. If books are journeys then Sullivan is a meandering, back-roads kind of driver."

USA Today

"A hilarious, bone-true portrait of Makah life...Sullivan captures, with curiosity and empathy, the sighing and breathing of a culture fighting to stay alive."

Outside magazine

Esteemed writer Robert Sullivan here explores the story of a proud people fighting against outside criticism and internal strife. In 1994, the Makah, a Native American tribe located at the northwestern tip of the United States, decided to restore an ancient tradition as a new millennium loomed. In 1997, Sullivan arrived at the tribe's home, Neah Bay, to witness the Makah's ceremonial killing of a gray whale.

Set against the awe-inspiring scenery of the Pacific Northwest, the book is a distinctly modern tale: Though it chronicles a historic tradition, and speaks of bygone eras, it also could not have happened the way it did without the steadfast opposition of the animal rights movement. The world watches as the Makah, the media and many protestors create a deeply complicated morality play.

Through the months of the simmering conflict, Sullivan takes the reader on a journey that includes whale-watching in Mexico, exploring both the charms and disappointments of Neah Bay, and finally, taking to thewater for the book's fevered climax.

Like Moby Dick, Herman Melville's classic that inevitably serves as the spiritual backdrop of the Makah story, A Whale Hunt is a book of obsession, fortitude, and the strength of internal and external boundaries.

Questions for A Whale Hunt

1. Robert Sullivan begins A Whale Hunt with a series of primary documents — newspaper columns, letters to the editor, tribal songs, etc. — detailing the story's central conflict. Why do you think Sullivan chose to open the book this way? Do you the think the chosen excerpts are biased toward one side or the other? If so, do you think this influence was intended?

2. Why do you think Sullivan refers to Moby Dick and the life of Herman Melville throughout the book in footnotes? Lewis Mumford is quoted as saying about Moby Dick: "Melville sets out to teach us nothing." Is this true of Sullivan? If not, what is he trying to teach?

3. Neah Bay's unique history is evident, yet there are signs that it could be any remote town in modern-day America. There are moments in the book when the town's old and new cultures are shown co-existing, as when a crew member passes "in an old sedan out of which music was blaring." How did these contrasts affect the book's tone? What was your strongest impression of Neah Bay's culture?

4. What has made the whale such a strong symbol of the animal rights movement? How would the story have been different if it revolved around the hunting of another animal? Would it have been as emotionally compelling?

5. To what degree do you feel compassion toward certain animals? Are your feelings dependent on the kind of intelligence exhibited by the animal or the animal's ability to feel pain? How strong are your animal-rights convictions? Were they altered at all by reading this book? Why or why not?

6. How does Sullivan use humor to navigate the issues raised by the hunt? And, how does humor matter to the people involved in the hunt?

7. Paul Watson called the Coast Guard's focus on protestors' activities during the whale hunt "ludicrous". Do you agree? Throughout the story, did you feel the protestors were treated fairly? Should they have been given more or less leniency for their actions?

8. At one point, Wayne Johnson says: "This thing has become so much more than we ever imagined. Now, it's like we have to do it...with all the media and all the people watching us, we have to do it." What effect did the media and the protestors have on the hunt? Would the Makah effort have stalled without its fight against this organized resistance? Do you think most traditions are made stronger or weaker by outside resistance?

9. Recall the intimidating strength of Theron Parker, the reluctant leadership of Wayne Johnson, the steadfast opposition of Paul Watson. Which character's emotional reactions most closely mirrored your own? Which character would you liked to have learned more about?

10. Were there times in the book when it seemed the hunt would never be completed? When did it seem least likely to occur? Did the events leading up to the hunt strongly foreshadow its success or failure? How?

11. Early in the book, and again toward its close, the tribe's members talk of the hunt's spiritual meaning. Some crew members downplay the spiritual aspects of the hunt, while others pray and take part in other ceremonial rituals once the hunt is finished. Does spiritual intent affect your judgment of the tradition and, if so, how? Are there traditions in your life that are only understandable within their spiritual context? If so, what are they?

12. Sullivan writes: "In the end, it seemed ridiculous to try to experience a whaler's religious experience; it seemed absurd to attempt to simulate someone else's spiritual tradition." Do you agree?

13. Sullivan refers to the tribe's expedition as a "modern yet ancient ceremonial whale hunt". In what ways is it modern? In what ways ancient? As we judge traditions across cultural boundaries, what role should history play? To what degree do you partake in traditions because of their historic importance?

14. How does America's historic treatment of Native Americans affect your feelings about the tribe's desires? How does Sullivan handle this component of the story?

14. Discuss the aftermath of the whale hunt, and how you think it will affect the future. Are the Makah likely to continue their tradition? Will protest die down or increase? What do you think will happen to the people featured in the book?

Product Details

Sullivan, Robert
Scribner Book Company
New York :
Public opinion
Fisheries & Aquaculture
Native American Studies - Tribes
Makah Indians.
Neah Bay
Ethnic Studies - Native American Studies - Tribes
United States - State & Local - General
United States - State & Local
Public opinion -- United States.
Makah Indians - Hunting
Native American-General Native American Studies
Edition Description:
Series Volume:
Publication Date:
Grade Level:
8.44 x 5.5 in 13.335 oz

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Related Subjects

History and Social Science » Americana » General
History and Social Science » Native American » General Native American Studies
History and Social Science » Native American » Pacific Northwest
History and Social Science » World History » General
Science and Mathematics » Agriculture » Aquaculture
Science and Mathematics » Nature Studies » Ocean and Marine Biology
Science and Mathematics » Oceanography » General
Transportation » Nautical » Whaling

A Whale Hunt: How a Native American Village Did What No One Thought It Could Used Trade Paper
0 stars - 0 reviews
$11.00 In Stock
Product details 288 pages Scribner Book Company - English 9780684864341 Reviews:
"Synopsis" by , The story of a Native American tribe's quest to re-institute a long-forgotten tradition, "A Whale Hunt" is a gloriously idiosyncratic fusion of travelogue, ecology, history, moral controversy, and high-seas adventure.
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