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This short story takes place in the Irish county Donegal in an area with hills covered with grass. The hills must be located close to the city because the narrator is carrying this week’s groceries with him: “I had been shopping for my mother”.
The narrator is not described in details as he is the one telling the story. However, it is clear that he is doing well in school and he is well read because he has read many books on geography: “”I like geography,” I said. “I’ve been reading books about the world. About the frozen North. About the Arctic.””.
His teacher is Mrs Early who is a religious role model to the narrator. Mrs Early is a devoted Catholic and the narrator describes her as a good teacher who knows a lot about the world.
His biggest interest, however, is the whaler who he used to adore. He “knew the chronology of the whale hunt by heart” so he must have studied this field a lot. Therefore he is in awe when he meets the town’s old Whaler; his role model: “It was the Whaler. The idol of my young imagination”. It must have been like a dream come true for the narrator because a child’s biggest wish is almost always to meet his idol.
However their meeting is not at all how the narrator would or could have expected. In a matter of minutes his image of a fearless Whaler, who battles the mighty beasts on a stormy sea, is shattered to pieces.
When the two characters meet on the hill, the Whaler is defecating which puts the narrator in an extremely awkward position. Not only because he is used to people being less open about such matters but most importantly because he sees his idol in a humiliating situation, however ordinary defecating is. Suddenly his role model has been degraded to a person like everybody else.
This is a symbol of the narrator’s ending childhood. The time of idolizing typically takes place in the childhood but once he realizes that the Whaler is not the Superman he thought him out to be, the narrator takes one step further away from his innocent childhood and one step closer to adulthood. This theme makes the short story a coming of age story.
The Whaler himself is being portrayed by the boy as “one from the old tribe of gods; hero, magician and priest” but as the story progresses it becomes clear that this is not so.
First of all the Whaler reveals probably his biggest secret when he tells the boy that he has, in fact, never seen a whale in his life. The narrator is obviously shocked but it only gets worse when the Whaler also reveals that he and the narrator’s teacher, Mrs Early, had been having a sexual relationship. When the Whaler is telling about this, the narrator notices something about him: “he had a sad face almost as if he were about to cry”. This is the sign of ultimate weakness and defeat especially when it comes from an almost father figure who the narrator expects to be strong and powerful. The narrator then realizes that the Whaler, in reality, is not the God like figure he had imagined when he was a child.
This realization is especially noticeable from the positions of the two characters during the course of their conversation. In the start of their conversation before the Whaler is about to reveal his biggest secret, the narrator looks up at him and “he towered above me. Taller and broader. I fixed a point of his Adam’s apple”. At this point in the story the narrator still sees the narrator as a role model and he is therefore still seen as a child.
Later on, the two men are on the exact same level and the Whaler is no longer towering over the narrator: “Now we stood on level ground and my eyes rested on his chin”. The narrator is slowly beginning to tear down the image he has had of the Whaler as an idol but the clear breaking point is when the Whaler tells the narrator of the sexual relationship he had with Mrs Easy: “I stood on the incline above him and looked him in the eye”. Finally the narrator can look his once idolized hero in the eye and he realizes that the man he is looking at is no more man than himself. Perhaps even less.
As mentioned before, the tearing down of the idol is a part of the coming of age theme because the narrator is growing up throughout the story. Not only because of his realization about his earlier idol but also because he is being introduced to sexual relations with the other gender.
When the Whaler speaks of Mrs Easy, a lady who the narrator sees as the purest and most innocent being, as a wild woman with sexual needs, he is left speechless.
This is the first time the narrator is being introduced to seeing the opposite gender in such a drastically new light and, just like the break down of his idol, this takes him closer to adulthood: “The first shock of the news had aged my body”.
From here on he sees Mrs Early as a woman and not just a teacher which is clear in the ending of the short story where she is described more vividly than before: “As she walked and swished the can the light caught it, gleaming and ungleaming”.
In the very last sentence the narrator has one last realization about his earlier idol, the Whaler. The Whaler was unsuccessful in living up to his name but at the end of the day, the Whaler wasn’t even interested in trying to catch an actual whale because the one thing that he really desired to catch was the love of his life, Mrs Early, which was a task he also failed.
“Thar she blows” is therefore not a reference to a whale but to Mrs Early. They never moved away from the primitive sexual relations that they had so the Whaler saw no other solution than suicide. His last escape.
 The Whaler, page 1 line 41-42
 Ibid. page 2 line 52-53
 Ibid. page 3 line 113
 Ibid. 15
 Ibid. page 1 line 5-6
 The Whaler, page 1 line 6-7
 Ibid., page 3 line 125-126
 Ibid., page 2 line 62-63
 Ibid., page 3 line 121-122
 Ibid. page 4 line 148-149
 The Whaler, page 3 line 145
 Ibid., page 4 line 156-157
 Ibid. page 1 line 17 and page 5 line 158