After a while you start to see the world of the ship as a metaphor for society and the different social strata and the different [political views. After having made his piece with the Prettimans, who he has insulted and almost killed who both hold socialist ideals, Talbot is challenged to be consumed by the fire down below – in his heart and work towards some sort of utopia.
He resists because of his inhibitions but also because of his inability to believe it could really happen.
Meanwhile the officers are fighting for the captain’s favour and the ship continues to sail through waters without anyone in the crew having much idea where they actually are. The consequences of that action are suddenly put into stark context as Talbot spots ice and brings the ship to life and the end of the voyage that sudden moment closer as they sail towards the ice.