Mount Alvernia High School, Newton, Massachusetts

Jonathan Lethem

Katherine Fitzgerald 

A History of Military Dolphins

Isolation of the Other in Jonathan Lethemís Novels

Jonathan Lethem is an American novelist who combines the genres of science fiction and detective fiction, often creating dystopian and post-apocalyptic societies in which his characters struggle with their identities and self-image in comparison to the world around them. With societyís need to have a homogenized society, the protagonists in Lethemís works fall victim to being labelled as different, propelling them further into isolation as they search for their identities. His works also follow suit of typical dystopian novels, taking place in societies with heavy governmental control that leads the characters to sacrifice their individuality in order to comply with the rules of society. These rules apply to their sexuality as well, with societal norms forcing Lethemís protagonists to repress their emotions, leading to confused, insecure sexual identities since they cannot channel their romantic feelings. With the struggles that come with the search for identity, Lethemís works criticize societyís repression of individuality, and provide options for his characters to embrace their individuality.

Lethemís work features fantastical elements such as animals performing everyday human tasks, just like military dolphins who act as navy divers, mine sweepers, and spies. The U.S. Navy trains dolphins and other marine mammals as soldiers to execute missions that human divers cannot perform. In 1960, the U.S. military began their marine mammal program for research purposes only. They wanted to better understand echolocation so they could gather information and design new technologies that detect underwater objects. Dolphins exceeded their initial goal of improving naval exploration and ultimately helped increase the power and efficiency of the naval military branch. The U.S. Navy formed an entire division dedicated to dolphins and used their sonar skills to detect and locate mines and enemy swimmers during times of war and times of peace. Dolphins continue to provide useful research methods to militaries around the world, particularly the United States, Russia, and Ukraine. Overall, military dolphins remain an important part of naval research as they help create new technologies that save lives and advance scientific studies.

Major Works Consulted:

Goldish, Meish, and Sam H. Ridgway. Dolphins in the Navy. New York: Bearport Pub., 2012.
Lethem, Jonathan. The Fortress of Solitude. New York: Doubleday, 2003.
---. Gun, with Occasional Music. New York: Houghton Mifflin, 1994.
ďThe Story of Navy Dolphins.Ē PBS. Accessed January 24, 2017. /pages/frontline/shows/whales/etc/navycron.html.
Photo Credit: "Jonathan Lethem on His Fearsome Portrait of the American Left." Slate Magazine, 24 Sept. 2013. Web. 01 Mar. 2017.