“Human desire to survive and the value of human lives.” The book Ship fever by Andrea Barrett explores the development of science at an age when the society was on the entrance of progress. The little value placed on human life due to the diseases and wars that destroyed society held claim to the society s need to be indifferent to death. The need to survive was the primary desire and the concept of survival of the fittest accepted by all. This story allows the reader to explore the worthlessness of human life even in face of the extreme need for survival.
Humans have had a monumental effect on the state of the earth and, indeed, may have threatened their own survival. However, humans are also the only known species with the capacity to conceptualize and care about collectively induced charge and perhaps to ensure its own survival. The earth may not care which species remain and which do not, but arguably it could care about its own survival.
In Andrea Barrett’s “Ship Fever,” Lauchlin, a young Canadian doctor, works on a quarantine station off the coast of Quebec. It is during the Great Irish Famine, and boatloads of typhus-ridden Irish immigrants arrive daily on the Canadian shore. The doctor tends them and searches for a cure. Lauchlin is obsessed by his scientific work trying to find a cure for the deadly disease that grips the immigrants.
At a time when human life was not considered very valuable we see people fighting to keep the patients alive. In the novella that gives the short story collection its name, a doctor on a Quebec quarantine island in the 1840s fights the fevers of wretched Irish immigrants fleeing the potato famine, and reviews his own life, too. Barrett’s doctor is engaged in a great mission of improving the lot of mankind, not to mention enhancing his own professional stature. The doctor tries to find out why the disease is spreading in the manner it is and what the cure is. The doctors dedication to the life of the immigrants on the ship is commendable yet, not all that altruistic.
The desire of human’s to survive against the odds has been appreciated over the centuries and in the most miraculous circumstances people will find the will to live.
In Ship Fever we read of the immigrants who know that death is approaching but still struggle to help the doctor in the hope that they may live to see the next day. The small success and the failures work together to be frustrating but the need to simply survive is overwhelming and allows them to struggle beyond all hope.
The struggle between science and the value of human life has always been an inherent one based on values, morals and ethics. Barrett creates a situation where survival is almost impossible unless understanding of science comes and she in a sense removes the dilemma of conscience.
The situation of the terrible tragedy of the Irish during the potato famine, and inadequacies of 19th century medicine in dealing with epidemics aboard crowded and unsanitary ships carry fleeing immigrants caused many of the people of the time to be completely frustrated. They began to find no hope and even religious values were finally spurred. religion places value on life but the society of the times had no understanding of that fact. Without science they could not help any of the immigrants and this helplessness underlines the need to progress. The struggle between science and environment and religion is isolated as the need for human survival becomes even greater.
After Galileo, everything changed. With time, scientists came to see themselves battling for their lives and their freedom against faith. This happened slowly at first. Isaac Newton apparently felt it very little. But by the mid-19th century, when Charles Darwin sailed aboard the Beagle and hatched his theory of evolution by natural selection, the confrontation was acute. There is, after all, nothing in the Bible about random genetic variation or survival of the fittest. Science does not seem to answer questions of purpose or value.
As I conclude, Barrett has presented one of the most tragic aspects of human life in her story. The mass death of the Irish immigrants for seemingly no reason whatsoever presents the need for understanding of human life. What is its essential value and why is it so easy to die. The concept of the value of human life then becomes inexplicably linked to the need to survive. People value science because it puts value on their life and that need to survive is what allows them to progress.