In “What Fear Can Teach Us,” Karen Thompson Walker discusses the effects that fear has on decision-making, consistently referencing a historical story about the sailors of the Essex, who were stranded at sea.
When and How to Pair: Have students read “What Fear Can Teach Us” after reading chapter 42 in order to help them focus on the theme of fear, as well as introduce them to some historical background on the events that inspired the novel. Using Walker’s argument on what fear can teach us, ask students to investigate Ishmael’s description of whiteness as something to be feared. What could Ishmael learn about his own fear from this article? Teachers may alternatively choose to assign this text at the end of the novel if they are either a) concerned about revealing information that hints at the story’s ending or, b) if they wish to draw a comparison between the true and fictitious events.