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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 that 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 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 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 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 4th of July, and even that is handled quite differently.

The last act of the book, 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 book Hooper dies 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".
  • 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 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.
  • Kick the Dog: Mayor Vaughn's "associates" do this by killing Chief Brody's cat in front of his son.
  • Moby Schtick: At first, Quint simply sees catching the shark as just another, if well-paying, job. 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 One Name: When Chief Brody looks for Quint's name in the phone book, all it's listed under is "Quint".
  • 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 in there involved a gardener who raped a total of seven rich women, none of which testified 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.