The Boys in the Boat

The Boys in the Boat Epilogue Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
Joe returned to Seattle in September, and began living in a room of the house Harry had built; then, a few days later, he returned to trying to make some money to support himself. Don Hume and Jim McMillin also returned home soon after the Olympics ended; Roger Morris, Chuck Day, and Bobby Moch, however, traveled across Europe for six weeks. George Pocock and Al Ulbrickson spent some time in England. By mid-October, everyone was back in Seattle. Bobby Moch had graduated with honors, and now he was working as an assistant coach under Ulbrickson.
After the 1936 Olympic games, the Washington rowers went off on different paths in life, even if they remained good friends. Yet even after his victory, Joe still had to work hard to support himself—Olympic gold wasn’t a guarantee that the rest of his life would be easy. Moch, seemingly the most intellectual member of the team, graduated with honors, but continued to use his intelligence to help the Washington team.
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The next year, on June 22, the boys, minus Bobby Moch, rowed in Poughkeepsie and defended their national title by four boatlengths. Many of Ulbrickson’s peers said that the Washington team that year was the finest they’d ever seen. Afterwards, Roger Morris, Shorty Hunt, and Joe Rantz officially ended their collegiate rowing careers.
Joe was only a junior at the time of his Olympic victory—the next year, he and his fellow rowers defended their international reputation by rowing to great success at Poughkeepsie.
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After the 1936 Olympics, the Nazis resumed their persecution of the Jews; Hitler abandoned any efforts to seem tolerant and open-minded for the sake of the international Olympic audience. The Olympics had made Germany appear like a model of civility and organization, and implicitly made Hitler’s critics seem unreasonable. Leni Riefenstahl’s Olympia premiered in Berlin in 1938, and the film was later shown in Hollywood to great acclaim. By 1939, however, any illusion of a civilized Fascist state was gone: Hitler invaded Poland, launching World War Two.
In the end, the 1936 Olympics were an important weapon for the Third Reich: they tricked other countries into thinking of the Reich as a generous state that welcomed foreigners and tolerated all kinds of diversity. This shouldn’t suggest that nobody in the 1930s thought of Hitler as a dangerous man; however, the Olympics helped obscure some of the most horrific truths about Hitler and his regime.
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Joe Rantz graduated in 1939 with a degree in engineering, and Joyce graduated at the same time with high Latin honors. Just a few hours after graduating, Joe and Joyce were married. Joe went to work for Union Oil, and later Boeing, where he designed planes for World War Two. He and Joyce lived in Lake Forest Park for the rest of their lives, and had five children. In his retirement, Joe rediscovered his love for woodworking.
It’s no coincidence that many of the Olympic rowers graduated with high honors: Al Ulbrickson had taken great pains to ensure that his students succeeded academically, not just athletically. Brown suggests that Joe and Joyce lived “happily ever after”; Joyce was Joe’s closest friend and the person who understood him best.
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Bobby Moch attended law school while remaining on as a rowing coach at Washington; two years later, he transferred to Harvard Law while also coaching at MIT. He went on to become one of Seattle’s most prominent attorneys. Jim McMillin took over Bobby Moch’s coaching job at MIT, and later worked for Boeing as well. Chuck Day earned a medical degree and worked as a doctor in navy; later, he became a successful gynecologist. Shorty Hunt married his girlfriend and later founded a construction company. Don Hume had a successful career in mining, eventually becoming the president of the West Coast Mining Association. Johnny White worked for Bethlehem Steel. Gordy Adam worked for Boeing for thirty-eight years. Roger Morris spent World War Two doing construction, and later worked for the Manson Construction Company. Al Ulbrickson coached at Washington for another quarter century, and was later inducted into the National Rowing Hall of Fame. Ky Ebright won a third gold medal in 1948, and is remembered as one of the finest crew coaches in history. George Pocock maintained his reputation as the best boatmaker in the world. Mercifully, he never lived to see the day when fiberglass shells replaced the older wooden models, effectively making the art of boatmaking obsolete.
It’s no surprise that Moch went on to become a great lawyer—he’d already demonstrated plenty of savvy and quick thinking as a coxswain. Notably, many of the other rowers continued to work side-by-side for the rest of their lives, especially those who went to Boeing. By rowing together, it would seem, Joe and his peers built lifelong friendships. Ulbrickson remained on as a coach for years to come, although Ky Ebright arguably overshadowed him in the long run, winning three Olympic gold medals. Eventually crew boats were standardized, so that all teams could have the same advantages in a race—however, the industrialization of boatmaking spelled the end of boatmaking as an art form. When mass-produced fiberglass replaced delicate, hand-carved wood as the primary material for shells, world-class artisans like Pocock, who took a nuanced, deeply spiritual view of the sport, fell out of fashion.
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In 1971, the entire 1936 Olympic rowing crew was inducted into the Rowing Hall of Fame. The boys rowed together one final time in 1986. Then, in the 1990s, members of the team began to pass on, including Johnny White, Gordy Adam, Shorty Hunt, and Don Hume. In 2002, Joyce died; three years later, Bobby Moch and Jim McMillin died, too. Joe and Roger were the last surviving members of the Olympic crew team. Joe died peacefully in 2007, followed by Roger in 2009.
Most of the American Olympic rowers lived exceptionally long lives, and died within a few years of one another. Unsurprisingly, they’re remembered as some of the best American rowers in history, as their place in the Rowing Hall of Fame would suggest.
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In 2011, Daniel James Brown traveled to Berlin to visit the Olympic stadium. The regatta grounds looked much as they had in 1936, with young men testing their talents on the water. As he looked out, it occurred to him that in 1936, Hitler had seen a prophecy of his own doom, even if he didn’t realize it: just a few years after the Olympic games, young, earnest, talented Americans like the ones on the Olympic team would return to Berlin to hunt him down.
Throughout the book, Brown has suggested that the American team’s victory at the 1936 Olympics challenged the supremacy of Hitler’s Reich and prophesized the fall of Berlin in 1945. Though they might not have thought of themselves as crusaders against Hitler, Joe and the other rowers did, in a sense, fight Hitler by triumphing against a German team on Hitler’s home turf.
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The last “survivor” of the 1936 Olympic crew team is the Husky Clipper itself, the boat in which the Americans rowed. She’s kept at the University of Washington, where she continues to inspire ambitious young rowers. To this day, Washington rowers maintain the highest GPAs of any athletic team on campus—they’re expected to be models of discipline and success, both in and out of the classroom. Every year, as freshman try out for crew, the freshman coach makes the same speech about Washington crew’s historic success, its rivalry with Cal, and its Olympic gold. Then, the coach points up at the Husky Clipper and “begins to tell the story.”
The Husky Clipper “lives on” at the University of Washington, a poignant symbol of the great achievements of the university’s greatest rowers. Washington still produces Olympic-caliber oarsmen who succeed in the classroom as well as on the water—a testament to the lasting influence of Al Ulbrickson and his crew program of the 1930s. Although relatively few Americans know about Joe Rantz and his teammates at the University of Washington, their achievements endure, an inspiration to anyone who’s ever had to deal with insecurity, poverty, or loneliness.
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