Places: The Caine Mutiny

  • Last updated on December 10, 2021

First published: 1951

Type of work: Novel

Type of plot: Bildungsroman

Time of work: 1942-1945

Asterisk denotes entries on real places.

Places DiscussedUSS <i>Caine</i>

USS Caine Mutiny, TheCaine. U.S. Navy destroyer-minesweeper on which Willis Keith serves and grows from a spoiled and dependent youth to a battle-tested man. The Caine is not an impressive ship, a small and rusty vessel that dates from World War I and is acknowledged by its first captain, de Vriess, to be outdated. However, in its very mediocrity it has a power to reveal the best and worst in each of the characters. From the moment Keith comes aboard, he and the other characters are shown through how they handle the various crises they encounter, culminating in the disastrous typhoon. Captain Queeg proves unequal to the task of command time and time again, and finally comes apart entirely when confronted with nature’s wrath. Keith grows into his role as a naval officer and ultimately shows heroism in the face of a Japanese kamikaze attack, saving the ship while Tom Keefer, the instigator of the mutiny against Queeg, panics and flees.

With expertise drawn from his own war experience aboard naval destroyer-minesweepers, Wouk uses the multitude of small details of the Caine, its various compartments and equipment, to paint a picture of life aboard a steam-powered naval vessel as vivid as the stories of Napoleonic sailing warships created by Patrick O’Brien and C. S. Forester. The Caine in essence becomes another character of the novel, complete with its own foibles and peculiarities with which the human characters must deal. Its name, which evokes the biblical figure of Cain and the mark placed upon him by God for slaying his own brother, is regarded by many of the novel’s characters as a sign that the ship and everyone aboard are cursed.

*Pacific Ocean

*Pacific Ocean. Region in which the Caine operates, moving between California and the Marianna Islands. The novel’s pivotal moment comes in the midst of a powerful tropical storm that tests Queeg and his officers to their breaking points. At once both a place of testing and a meteorological event, the incident is based on an actual historical typhoon, one of two through which Admiral William F. Halsey took a U.S. naval fleet in 1944. Because of the extensive damage sustained by Halsey’s fleet in those storms, there was serious talk of relieving Halsey of his command. However, these larger historical and political issues are far from the minds of the officers and crew of the Caine as they battle the elements. They are concerned only with keeping the ship afloat long enough to get through the storm. Queeg, so demanding of the privileges and prerogatives of his command in ordinary times, fails to act decisively. Believing that his incapacity constitutes an immediate danger to the ship’s survival, the executive officer temporarily relieves him of command in an act that becomes the “mutiny” of the novel’s title.

*Pearl Harbor

*Pearl Harbor. U.S. Navy base on Oahu in the Hawaiian Islands. Here Keith faces a powerful temptation to dodge the trials of assignment aboard the Caine. While waiting for the ship to return from a lengthy mission at sea, Keith plays the piano to entertain at an admiral’s party, and the admiral is pleased enough by his performance to offer him a staff position, far from the front lines. Although Keith seriously considers it, a letter about honor and duty from his dying father leaves him convinced that he must not attempt to evade his responsibility to report for duty aboard the Caine, where he undergoes the trials that will make a man of him.

*Columbia University

*Columbia University. New York institution of higher learning where Keith trains as an officer candidate and is first introduced to Navy life. In its spartan buildings and parade grounds Keith makes his break from his mother’s dominance and learns the Navy way, sometimes illogical but always right by definition.

BibliographyBeichman, Arnold W. The Novelist as a Social Historian. New Brunswick, N.J.: Transaction Books, 1984. Concentrates on Wouk’s conservatism. There are useful observations on The Caine Mutiny and the problems it raises about authority versus individualism.Darby, William. Necessary American Fiction: Popular Literature of the 1950’s. Bowling Green, Ohio: Bowling Green State University Press, 1987. An insightful analysis of how popular novels such as The Caine Mutiny reflect American values of the decade.Jones, Peter G. War and the Novelist. Columbia: University of Missouri Press, 1976. Jones uses The Caine Mutiny as an exemplar of how war novels deal with problems of wartime military command.Mazzeno, Laurence W. Herman Wouk. New York: Twayne, 1994. The best study of Wouk and his writings. Chapter 3 is devoted entirely to the novel.Waldemeir, Joseph T. American Novels of the Second World War. The Hague: Mouton, 1971. Emphasizes how The Caine Mutiny, among a minority of war novels, commends the subordination of civilian individualism to military authority.
Categories: Places