Places: Mister Roberts

  • Last updated on December 10, 2021

First published: 1946

Type of work: Novel

Type of plot: Satire

Time of work: Last months of World War II

Places DiscussedUSS <i>Reluctant</i>

USS Mister RobertsReluctant. Navy cargo ship operating in the Pacific Ocean during the last months of World War II. It is a typically dull, navy blue color, with the same lettering, equipment, and rigging as any other cargo ship listed in the navy’s register. The name of the ship is the first of several clues to the inhabitants on board. The crew is even reluctant to call the ship by name, referring to it as a “bucket.”

The Reluctant could be any ship sailing to any number of islands in the Pacific Ocean. The author has also chosen fictional names for the islands that are indicative of the general state of mind and attitude of the crew, for example, Tedium, Apathy, Monotony, and Ennui. This helps the author to illustrate the boredom and isolation the men feel. This also lends some insight into the behavior of the crew.

Deck

Deck. Main deck of the ship where the crew carries out its dreary purpose of loading and unloading cargo, performing routine maintenance, and standing watch against an enemy which will never be close enough to encounter. It is because they have no real enemy to fight that the crew has unanimously nominated the captain as their sworn enemy. They spend much of their time on deck planning, like bored children, various schemes to aggravate him. When the tedium becomes unbearable, they also are not above taking jabs at each other. When the ship is in port, Mister Roberts spends most of his time on deck, supervising the activities of the crew and dealing with the captain. In describing the activities of the crew while on deck, the author is able to demonstrate Mister Roberts’s unique relationship with the crew. He can be stern when he needs to be, but he is fair, and he has the respect and unfailing admiration of his men.

The deck is also a place of solitude and reflection for Mister Roberts. His turns on the watch give him ample opportunity to fixate on his desire to be transferred to a fighting ship and be part of the action.

Ensign Pulver’s cabin

Ensign Pulver’s cabin. Double room occupied only by Ensign Pulver, who is Mister Roberts’s most ardent admirer. The bottom bunk is used for sleeping, and the top bunk is a general storage space for everything from soiled clothes to old magazines. Pulver spends most of his time in this room, lying in his bunk, planning elaborate acts of revenge against the captain, which he never carries out.

Doc’s cabin

Doc’s cabin. Also a gathering place for Mister Roberts and his small band of friends. It is here with Doc that Mister Roberts can be completely honest about his feelings about being on the ship and the real reasons he wants to be in the middle of the action.

Ward room

Ward room. Below-deck space is used by the ship’s officers as a place in which to gather, enjoy cold drinks or coffee, play friendly games of checkers or cards, and relax. There is usually a good-natured atmosphere in this room, and for a brief time the men can forget their boredom and frustration.

Elysium

Elysium. Island whose name represents the joy and anticipation the crew feels at the prospect of going ashore for liberty. It could be any island along the ship’s route. The landscape or inhabitants are immaterial to the story. The only thing that makes this particular island any different from Tedium, Apathy, and the others is the fact that the crew will actually get to go ashore. They have been cooped up on the ship for so long, that when they are finally allowed on the island, they run wild, expressing their happiness and excitement by getting into all sorts of mischief. Their behavior causes the captain to revoke any future visits ashore, but the crew, for a while at least, assumes an attitude that reflects the happiness and contentment of Elysium.

BibliographyCohn, Victor. “Mister Heggen.” Saturday Review of Literature 32 (June 11, 1949): 19. A brief but interesting consideration of Heggen and his work published not long after Heggen’s suicide in May of the same year.Leggett, John. Ross and Tom: Two American Tragedies. New York: Simon & Schuster, 1974. Leggett’s book is primarily a biographical study of Thomas Heggen and novelist Ross Lockridge (both suicides) rather than a critical work on Mister Roberts, it is indispensable to understanding Heggen’s state of mind when he wrote the novel.Schulberg, Budd. “Taps at Reveille.” Esquire 54 (November, 1960): 101-105. A positive assessment of Mister Roberts particularly in the context of other American writing about World War II. Also relevant to the film made of the novel in 1955.
Categories: Places