The novella tells the story of a the crew and passengers on the ship The Golden Mary that is sailing towards the Californian coast. There is a motley group of passengers – a man looking out to make money in the gold rush, an estranged fiancé, a mother and her child heading to meet the father. The ship is tragically struck by an ice berg and sinks. Luckily all the crew and passengers are moved safely to two life boats.The people though alive are far from safety as they float stranded on the open sea with minimum food and water between them.
Apart from the captain and the first mate , through whose eyes the story is told , an extremely important character is Golden Lucy. She is the only child on board and everyone’s favorite. She presents purity and happiness when the ship was afloat and hope and spirit when survivors hung between life and death in the lifeboats.
Dickens brings out interesting aspects of human behavior under this severe living condition and creates vivid characters in such short story telling. One of the steps the survivors take to keep their spirits alive as days pass by without the sign of another ship , is to tell each other stories. 5 such stories all contributed by 5 different writers form the body of the novella.