Middlemarch and Crab Fishing

Last spring, we were studying George Eliot’s novel Middlemarch in my Victorian lit class. If you’re an English major, you’ve probably heard of this pudgy novel, but otherwise, it’s probably new to you. It’s sort of a less romantic Jane Austen novel, except with more characters you have to invest in. Don’t worry, while it’s not a terribly boring book as far as classics go, you’re still not missing much.  I had a wonderful professor whose love of the book was contagious, so I now have a healthy appreciation for the writing.

More importantly, though, in a tiny way, this book–a book I can’t even say that I like–changed my life. There’s a character (Fred Vincy) who’s a good natured dandy who tries to live like he’s rich, when he really isn’t. He’s in love with a girl from the working class who loves him back, but doesn’t want to marry him because he’s too irresponsible and lazy. Fred eventually gets up to his ears in debt and it’s not only excruciatingly shameful for him, but it hurts everyone who cares about him.

Now, I’m nothing like Fred normally, but during the month when I was reading this book, I owed my parents quite a bit of money. I’d been paying it off in little amounts for about ten months and they weren’t particularly angry at me about it, but I knew I hadn’t made it a priority. I had a job and was spending the money on new clothes and eating off campus just because the money was in my account. When I read Middlemarch, I think Fred Vincy  was my least favorite character of the whole novel and I didn’t want to have anything in common with him. It pricked my conscious just enough to push me into paying off my own debt before the summer arrived.

I’ve recently had another similar experience. But it wasn’t a book this time, but a television show about crab fishing. Some people’s guilty pleasure show is Glee–mine is Deadliest Catch on the Discovery Channel. I sadly missed all of Season 6 last year, though, because of school and work, so I’ve been watching it on dvd while playing the part of the jobless recent graduate. There are two Jakes on the show, on different boats, but both young and both looking to be captains of their own boats someday.

Jake #1 is Jake Harris, son of Captain Phil on the Cornelia Marie. He and his brother have been crab fishing for several years now, but Jake’s dad yells at him all the time because he’s sort of a Fred Vincy: a good guy, but has a bad case of self-entitlement and no work ethic. His dad keeps telling him that he needs to step up to the plate, but even though his dad had a heart attack in Season 5 that almost killed him, Jake can’t seem to find the motivation.

Jake #2 is Jake Anderson. Even though this Jake has been working on the Northwestern for several years, he’s still treated like the newbie by the rest of the crew. He’s bright eyed and eager to learn as much as he can. He looks up to Captain Sig as a father figure and works hard to make him proud. He does the messiest and most tedious job available (baiting the pots with ground up cod) with energy and cheerfulness. And he never stops asking, “Can I help you with that? Can you teach me how to do that?” When the deck boss blows him off and tries to get him angry by making fun of him, Jake laughs it off and keeps doing his best with the job in front of him. When he’s finally given the chance to throw the hook or drive the boat, the crew doesn’t get offended that “Junior” is getting special treatment because they all know that he’s earned it.


A good attitude and hard work is something I find easy when it comes to academics and my career, but I don’t have either of those things right now. What I do have is my writing, which I consider a part of my career, and a lot of time at home. When I was still in school, coming home was expected. It was my reward for all the stress I endured at college and it recharged me to return to the war. But the war is over and I’m staying with my parents on borrowed time so I don’t see myself as having any right to be here. When I was watching the show, I realized that I have a choice of which Jake I’m going to be. Am I going to sit on the couch and watch guys fish on the Bering Sea all day? Or, for the first time in my life, am I going to offer to make dinner, vacuum, and help out as much as I can until I get a job? Ummm…well, okay, honestly,  I guess I’ve done BOTH. I definitely need to put my knuckle to my nose some more with my writing–make all that computer time count for something. But if I can manage not to drive my parents crazy while I’m temporarily here, then I’ll consider it a crabbing trip well spent.


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