White-Jacket Characters

  • Last updated on December 10, 2021

First published: 1850

Type of work: Novel

Type of plot: Adventure

Time of work: The 1840’s

Locale: A vessel of the U.S. Navy

Characters DiscussedWhite-Jacket

White-Jacket, White-Jacketa common seaman aboard the United States frigate Neversink on a voyage from the Pacific around Cape Horn to the eastern seaboard. White-Jacket gets his name aboard the ship when he sews for himself a canvas jacket for protection against the cold of the Cape. He is a sensitive young man and is greatly disturbed by practices common aboard U.S. naval vessels of the nineteenth century; floggings, tyrannical officers, and issuance of liquor to crewmen all draw his fire. White-Jacket’s story ends when he falls overboard off the Virginia capes and throws off the canvas coat to be better able to swim for his life. White-Jacket’s account was instrumental in abolishing flogging as punishment in the U.S. Navy.

Jack Chase

Jack Chase, a Britisher in United States service aboard the USS Neversink. He is the educated and civil petty officer under whom White-Jacket serves. His good work in getting privileges for the crew earns him the respect of the coarse seamen with whom he sails.

Captain Claret

Captain Claret, a typical commander of naval vessels of the nineteenth century. He, along with his officers, feels that naval officers should drive men, not lead them. The captain is stern and usually fair but sometimes peevish and unpredictable. He never feels that common seamen deserve even a modicum of the respect ordinarily paid human beings.

BibliographyAnderson, Charles Roberts. Melville in the South Seas. New York: Columbia University Press, 1939. Deals with Melville’s life on board the frigate United States, a source for White-Jacket. Notes that despite the obvious biographical relevance of his maritime experiences to his sailing novels, Melville’s intention was to write fiction.Arvin, Newton. “Mardi, Redburn, White-Jacket.” In Melville: A Collection of Critical Essays, edited by Richard Chase. Englewood Cliffs, N.J.: Prentice-Hall, 1962. Unlike many other critics, Arvin believes that White-Jacket is inferior to the novel written prior to it, Redburn. The title, White-Jacket, symbolizes the wearer’s isolation from the majority of the crew.Branch, Watson G., ed. Melville: The Critical Heritage. London: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1974. Eleven rather favorable reviews published when White-Jacket was released in 1850 attest to early appreciation of Melville’s talent as a writer re-creating life at sea.Justus, James H. “Redburn and White-Jacket: Society and Sexuality in the Narrators of 1849.” In Herman Melville: Reassessments, edited by A. Robert Lee. New York: Barnes & Noble Books, 1984. Discusses the fact that in White-Jacket the unnamed protagonist identifies himself with a highly select group of friends while criticizing both the grog-swigging members of the crew and the silk-stockinged officers on a U.S. man-of-war.Seelye, John. Melville: The Ironic Diagram. Evanston, Ill.: Northwestern University Press, 1970. Using Homeric and domestic similes, Melville contrasts the natural leader, Jack Chase, with the politically appointed, incompetent Captain Claret to exemplify the undemocratic, irrational conditions aboard U.S. naval ships.
Categories: Characters