Peter Benchley


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Jaws Summary

SuperSummary, a modern alternative to SparkNotes and CliffsNotes, offers high-quality study guides that feature detailed chapter summaries and analysis of major themes, characters, quotes, and essay topics.  This one-page guide includes a plot summary and brief analysis of Jaw by Peter Benchley.

In 1974, Peter Benchley published Jaws, a novel about a shark that terrorizes a seaside town. It was released to mixed reviews, with some panning the characterization, though everyone noted Benchley’s effective use of suspense to tell the story.

The book opens in the seaside town of Amity, where a young girl, Chrissy Watkins, is skinny-dipping in open waters. A great white shark kills her, and her body washes up on shore. The attack prompts the police chief, Martin Brody, to request that the beach be closed until further investigation.

The mayor is worried about summer tourist season and overrides Brody’s request. With the help of an unscrupulous news writer, they manage to hush the story. A few days later, the shark kills a young boy and an old man not far from shore. A local fisherman is sent to try to kill the shark, but his boat is found empty a few days later with massive bite holes.

Brody attempts to close the beaches, but again, he is overruled by the mayor. Brody investigates the mayor to find out why he is so determined to keep the beaches open and discovers that he has ties to the mafia. They have instructed him to keep the beaches open to protect their real estate investments. He recruits marine biologist, Matt Hooper, to help him deal with the shark problem.

When Hooper arrives in town, he meets Brody’s wife, Ellen, who misses the affluent life she had before marrying Brody. She begins an affair with Hooper, the younger brother of a man she dated in the past. Brody suspects the affair while Hooper is in town.

The beaches are still open, but now tourists come into town hoping to catch a glimpse of the killer shark. Another boy narrowly escapes. Brody hires Quint, a shark hunter, and closes the beaches finally.

Brody, Hooper, and Quint head out on Quint’s boat, but are soon in major disagreement over what to do. Hooper does not like Quint’s methods, and Quint thinks that Hooper is a rich city boy. Brody’s suspicions of the affair grow stronger causing him to argue violently with Hooper.

They have two unsuccessful days before finally spotting the shark on the third day. Hooper had convinced the two to bring along a shark cage, an idea Quint finds suicidal. Hooper decides to take pictures before killing the shark. He gets into the cage, but the shark pulls the bars apart and kills him.

Quint and Brody return the following day and find the shark again. Quint tries unsuccessfully to harpoon the shark. He finally does as the shark begins ramming the boat. The shark tears holes in the hull and the boat begins to sink. Quint’s foot is caught in the rope of the harpoon, and he is dragged underwater to his death. Brody sits in the sinking boat and sees the shark coming towards him. He prepares to die.

Just as the shark reaches the boat, it succumbs to its injuries. It sinks below the water along with Quint’s body, and Brody manages to paddle back to shore on the remaining piece of the boat.

One of the main themes of the book is the danger people pose. Although many pages are given to descriptions of the shark and the attacks, we are led to understand that had the mayor closed the beaches, for example, no one else might have died. He does not because of his ties to a major crime organization, and as a result, more people die.

Hooper also dies because of his unwillingness to acknowledge the real danger of the shark. He relies on his intellect and thinks that he can protect himself from the shark in the shark’s natural element. He strides into town as an expert, but he is undone by his bravado.

Quint’s obsession with killing the shark is much akin to the classic tale of Captain Ahab. He too relies on his expertise and is undone by his mistakes. Brody is the only one who fully respects the danger the shark represents and as such is the only one to live.

Brody is an authority figure thrust into the spotlight as he is tasked with protecting the wealthy beachgoers he frequently thinks of in contempt. He is the only one who wishes to close the beach, putting him at direct odds with the administration of the town and the tourists he is trying to protect. This conflict causes him to reach outside of town for an expert, but he ultimately blames himself for the subsequent shark attack deaths.

Jaws was responsible for instilling fear into generations of beach goers and has been criticized for capitalizing on a stereotype about sharks, causing sharks to die and ecosystems to suffer. However, Benchley’s knack with suspense and his ability to tell a story about one of humankind’s most base fears make this story a classic.