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Themes

Charlotte Doyle is a girl who dresses as a boy. From this we can assume that this novel wants us to think about gender and what it means to bend it, shape it, any way you want it. For example, Charlotte wears a dress around her family and becomes quite feminine, but on the boat, she puts on canvas trousers and becomes masculine. (They even start calling her "Mister," right?) Charlotte's gender can vary depending on the situation. It's malleable, like Silly Putty. If we were feeling particularly academic, we might even say that Charlotte's gender is socially constructed. (Yes, we're pushing our glasses up our nose right now.) Also note that Charlotte's ever-shifting gender is often contrasted with something that does not change: her biological sex. Though she wears boy's clothing, she always keeps her girl's body.

Questions About Gender

  1. Why are Charlotte's clothes so important to her in the beginning of the novel? At the end?
  2. Captain Jaggery believes that the presence of a woman on the ship will help improve his men. How could this be this true or untrue?
  3. Is Charlotte's gender bending role as a sailor realistic? Why or why not?
  4. Does changing Charlotte's gender lead to bigger kinds of change on the Seahawk?
  5. Why is cross-dressing not an option once Charlotte returns home to her family?

Chew on This

Try on an opinion or two, start a debate, or play the devil’s advocate.

By changing her gender, Charlotte paves the way for radical shifts aboard the ship.

Charlotte may be able to switch genders, but she'll always be a girl. The amount of change she can enact is therefore pretty limited.

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