Asterisk denotes entries on real places.
As the narrator works his way through the ship’s colorful and diverse crew, he points out that each crew member has not only specific and limited duties but also a well-defined physical space in which to fulfill those responsibilities. Consequently, a seaman may typically work in only one part of the ship and have little or no knowledge of what goes on in other parts of the vessel. The officers have free run of the entire ship and therefore know more than most, but they impose their own limits, preferring to remain among fellow officers rather than mixing with those beneath their rank. Common sailors, on the other hand, have no choice but to accept their boundaries, and thus their environment, already constricted by the physical limits of the ship on the perilous ocean, closes in on them even more, adding to the oppressive nature of their already limited freedoms.
The narrator also describes the relative monotony and somewhat domestic nature of daily life on board the naval vessel, thereby debunking the romantic misconception of sea adventures inspired in the popular imagination by Melville’s contemporaries and, even to some extent, by Melville himself. Readers learn that a seaman’s life is rarely about glorious battles and heroic escapades. A sailor is more likely to spend his days and nights cleaning the ship and washing clothes, sitting for hours on watch and staring off at a limitless horizon of sameness, drying out from the frequent storms and finding consolation only in his daily allotment of grog.
However, the narrator also points out that the common sailor overcomes the dehumanizing character of his lowly life through all sorts of creative outlets, including the performing arts and literary interests. This ship is full of coarse, weather-beaten men but also contains lively human minds devoted to the writing of poetry and the performances of plays, thus demonstrating that even in the midst of oppressive social structures and fearsome natural boundaries, humans still strive to make their voices heard. With that in mind, the narrator uses his own platform, his narrative, to voice his concerns regarding the injustices perpetrated upon American sailors, including most notably the deplorable practice of flogging.
*Cape Horn. Treacherous stretch of water along the southern tip of South America through which the Neversink sails to cross from the Pacific Ocean to the Atlantic Ocean. The narrator rarely focuses on specific locales outside the boundaries of the ship, but he dedicates three chapters to his description of the cape, detailing many of its dangers, including unpredictable weather, violent currents, and icebergs from Antarctica.