Mark Helprin, in the short story "Letters from the Samantha," presents the monkey as a symbol of the dark and powerful forces of nature which both terrify and tempt the sailors. The key to the understanding of the story and the role of the monkey is found before the animal even appears. The writer of the letters which comprise the story is the captain of the ship, the Samantha. Fascinated and frightened, Samson Low is watching, with his men, the progress of a typhoon approaching the ship:
We were afraid, though every man on deck wanted to see it, to feel it, perhaps to ride its thick swirling waters a hundred times higher than our mast. . . . I confess that i have wished to be completely taken up by such a thing, to be lifted into the clouds, arms and legs pinned in the stream (272).
The narrator/captain goes on to equate this imagined surrender to a typhoon to the sailor's relationship with the marine environment in general. He says the "phosphorescent seas
. . . are dangerously magnetic even for hardened masters of good ships," and concludes: "I have wanted to surrender to plum-colored seas, to know what one might find there naked and alone. But I have not, and will not" (272).
Then, in the wake of the typhoon, the monkey is discovered in a "clump of tangled vegetation." He brings the monkey on board "on impulse." There are immediate hints of the dark consequences which would ultimately follow such an impulsive act. as he reaches to pull the monkey on board, the captain himself is almost pulled into the sea because of the animal's great strength. Then, as the monkey passes him on the way to his perch in the masts, the captain says "his foot cuffed my shoulder and I could smell him" (273).
The theme is at that point established. The captain is leader of his men, and they all to some degree share their fear of and fascination with the dark side of nature, even though they know they would likely be destroyed were they ...