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Literature / Jaws

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"There's nothing in the sea this fish would fear. Other fish run from bigger things. That's their instinct. But this fish doesn't run from anything. He doesn't fear."

A 1974 horror/thriller novel by Peter Benchley which was adapted into a 1975 film by Steven Spielberg, said film becoming one of the most iconic of all time and single-handedly inventing the Summer Blockbuster in the process.

Amity is a quaint small town on Long Island, New York, frequented by rich city tourists in the summer, from whom the locals derive most of their income, getting them through uneventful winters. When a man-eating great white shark starts killing people in the waters near its beaches, the fragile economy is threatened; police Chief Martin Brody faces the dilemma of keeping the people safe while facing mounting pressure from the town's mayor — and the people who pull the mayor's strings — to keep the beaches open to salvage something of the tourist season.

The book is divided into three acts; the first act is much like the film, opening directly with the shark's first victim, and proceeding from there, albeit with different emphasis. More attention is given to the conflict between Chief Brody's duty to protect the citizens — by closing the beaches, in his opinion — and the town's need for tourist dollars to get through the lean winters, and to Ellen Brody's identity as a "summer person" and her boredom with her blue-collar life.

The second act was almost entirely cut from the film. It deals with Ellen's extramarital affair with the younger ichthyologist Hooper and Mayor Vaughn's involvement with sharks of a different kind – mafia loan sharks. It also offers a further reflection on just how fragile single-industry small towns are when something disrupts that single industry. The main element from this act to survive the transition to film is the opening of the beaches for the Fourth of July, and even that is handled quite differently.

The last act of the novel, however, is not so dissimilar, ending with Brody, the rogue fisherman Quint, and Hooper hunting down the shark aboard Quint's boat, though in the novel both Hooper and Quint die and the shark's death is somewhat less cinematic.

This novel has examples of:

  • An Arm and a Leg: Before Chrissie is killed properly by the shark, it first rips off one of her legs.
  • Anti-Climax: The shark swims towards Brody, having killed both Hooper and Quint, and hell-bent on doing the same to Amity's chief of police... only for the shark to abruptly die of its injuries, and sink towards the bottom.
    • This due to the nature of sharks: they must keep moving to have water through their gills. In this scene, the shark was caught in the ropes of the barrels and they kept it from swimming any further.
  • Autocannibalism: During the first trip to catch the shark on the Orca, the trio manages to reel in a blue shark, and Quint decides to put on a show for Brody and Hooper by gutting the thing and throwing it back to the water, where it goes into a feeding frenzy and starts eating its own guts, luring other sharks to join in on the party.
  • Based on a True Story: The novel as well as the Spielberg movie are both partly-inspired by and reference the real life 1916 Jersey Shore shark attacks.
  • Bedroom Adultery Scene: Hooper suggests Ellen's house for their tryst, but she hurriedly declines, citing the possibility of her husband or children walking in, and being reluctant to "desecrate the marital bed".
  • Bowdlerize: There's a Little Golden Books version in which no one dies, not even the shark.
  • Death of a Child: The shark's second victim is a six-year-old boy.
  • Internal Retcon: In order to protect Amity's reputation as a tourist resort, its more prominent citizens convince Brody not to close the beaches, or even mention anything about the shark, thinking that it will just go away and they can go on with their business as usual. This backfires when it eats a six-year-old boy at the beach, followed by an old man right in plain sight in less than an hour.
  • It's Personal: Unlike the film, Quint doesn't have a deep-seated vendetta against sharks due to some maritime tragedy. In fact, he treats shark hunting as another fishing business. But he does develop personal vendetta against the great white shark he's tasked to hunt, seeing its elusive tendencies as a living mockery to his fishermen skills.
  • Kick the Dog: Mayor Vaughn's "associates" do this by killing Chief Brody's cat in front of his son.
  • Landline Eavesdropping: When Meadows talks privately on the phone with Brody to let him know the real reason why Vaughn insists on keeping the beaches open, Vaughn suspects the call is bad news, so he secretly picks up the phone in the next room to learn what the call's about.
  • Mob Debt: Adapted Out of the movie is exactly why the Mayor is so hellbent on keeping the beaches open despite the shark: he's deep in debt to the mob, who are serious enough about it that they, at one point, show up at his house to kill his cat in front of him.
  • Moby Schtick: At first, Quint simply sees catching the shark as just another job, albeit a well-paying one. After witnessing the shark killing Hooper, he starts obsessing about catching it. He even dies similarly to Captain Ahab, being dragged underwater by rope and drowning.
  • Moral Event Horizon: The killing of Brody's cat is this to everyone in-universe. Brody confronts Vaughn angrily, Vaughn confesses the truth about his business partners and relents in permitting Brody to hunt the shark.
  • Neck Snap: To threaten Chief Brody, one of Mayor Vaughn's mobster associates takes his youngest son's cat from the boy and breaks its neck in front of him.
  • Night Swim Equals Death: The first victim, a woman named Chrissie, takes a drunken night swim in the sea, and gets eaten by the shark.
  • Only in It for the Money: Played straight at first. Quint isn't willing to hunt the shark unless it's double the amount he's usually gets (which is two hundred a day), feeling that this hunt is a premium class. But it's soon subverted when Quint starts to develop a grudge against the shark after several failed attempts to kill him. By the book's climax, Quint tells Brody to keep money because it has now become personal for him.
  • Only One Name: When Chief Brody looks for Quint's name in the phone book, all it's listed under is "Quint".
  • Not So Invincible After All: The shark at first is depicted as an almost supernatural monster, impervious to gunshots and powerful enough to destroy boats and a shark cage with ease. Even Brody admits that hunting the shark has become a suicide mission after Hooper got eaten. But then on the final day of the shark hunt, shark loses its invincible aura after Quint successfully attaches three barrels on its body. Unlike the film, the shark is unable to dive down to the depths because it lacks the strength to pull three barrels for a long period of time, allowing the Orca to track it with ease. And these barrels end up exhausting the shark's energy to the point it can no longer swim to keep breathing, causing it to die of suffocation just before it reaches the helpless Brody on the sinking ship.
  • Serendipitous Survival: Ben Gardner's mate isn't with him when the shark kills Ben and destroys his boat due to "something about a dentist appointment."
  • Serial Rapist: Before the shark swam into Amity's waters, one of the few major crime cases there involved a gardener who'd raped a total of seven rich women, none of whom were willing to testify against him in court.
  • Unwitting Pawn: Three of the four selectmen helping Vaughn put pressure on Brody have no idea about how Vaughn in being driven by criminal connections and think they're just doing a favor for an old friend or protecting local jobs.
  • Vomit Chain Reaction: When the remains of Chrissie Watkins, the shark's first victim are found, the cop who made the discovery starts vomiting on the spot. This is followed by Chrissie's boyfriend who has to identify her, which causes Chief Brody, who had struggled to keep anything in after seeing the body, to vomit too.