Study Guide

The True Confessions of Charlotte Doyle Quotes

  • Identity

    But before I begin relating what happened, you must know something about me as I was in the year 1832- when these events transpired. At the time my name was Charlotte Doyle. And though I have kept the name, I am not – for reasons you will soon discover – the same Charlotte Doyle. (Preface.2)

    Shakespeare once asked, "What's in a name?" Our protagonist weighs in on the issue by telling us that, though she still goes by the name of "Charlotte Doyle," time has fundamentally changed who she actually is. (She is writing retrospectively, many years after the original composition of her journal.) As an adult, Charlotte defines herself not by a simple title or by her family name, but by her life experiences.

    Not even the same lowering mist I'd observed when I first came from my cabin could dampen my soaring spirits. Captain Jaggery was a brilliant sun and I, a Juno moon, basked in reflected glory. (6.2)

    Charlotte imagines herself as a reflection of the captain; that is, she sees herself as the moon to his oh-so-glorious sun. Does this imagery suggest that Charlotte regards herself as merely a reflector for the captain's grandeur? Can Charlotte only see herself in relation to someone else in general?

    This time I did not cry. I was too numb, too much in a state of shock. Instead, I simply stood immobile – rather like the moment when I'd first cast eyes upon the Seahawk – trying confusedly to think out what I could do.

    I tried, desperately, to imagine what my father, even what my mother or Miss Weed, might want me to do, but I could find no answer. (12.38-12.39)

    In the aftermath of Mr. Cranick's death, Charlotte finds herself with a lack of guidance. No one – not her father nor her mother nor boarding school mistress – can help her decide what action to take. She must now decide what to do all on her own. She must learn to think of herself as an independent person.

    Having fully committed myself, I was overwhelmed by my audacity. The masts had always seemed tall, of course, but never so tall as they did at that moment. (13.52)

    As Charlotte begins her climb to the top of the royal yard, she seems almost not to know herself or who she is. Her actions are shocking – even to her. Would the Charlotte at the beginning of the voyage have attempted to climb the ship's masts? How has she changed over the first part of the book?

    Finally, when I'd reached close to the very end, Barlow stepped forward, beaming, his arms uplifted.

    "Jump!" he called. "Jump!"

    But now, determined to do it all myself, I shook my head. Indeed, in the end I dropped down on my own two India-rubber legs – and tumbled to the deck. (13.102-13.103)

    Charlotte wants to earn respect all on her own and doesn't want help from anyone else. To prove she's up the challenge of joining the crew, she jumps down from the mast and lands on her own two feet. (Look who's turning into Miss Independent!) How does Charlotte's relationship with the crew differ from her relationship with the captain? How does joining a group (the crew) allow her to become an individual?

    My hair, uncombed for days, blew free in the salty air. My face, dark with weather, was creased with smile. I was squinting westward into the swollen face of a blood-red sun, which cast a shimmering golden road upon the sea; from where I perched it seemed we were sailing on that road in a dream. And there I was, joyous, new-made, liberated from a prison I'd though was my proper place! (14.32)

    Charlotte has undergone both an internal and external transformation. That is, she both looks differently, and she feels differently. Despite her tangled hair and sunburned face, Charlotte sees herself as a "new-made" person and is filled with joy. Notice that the passage has the feeling of a "dream," a word Charlotte herself uses. Do you think the way Charlotte views herself is realistic? Is there maybe an element of fantasy to this description? If so, why?

    I ran my fingers through my hair but the gesture only reminded me I'd hacked it short. For a brief moment I caught a distant vision of myself as I had been before the Seahawk, before this tumultuous voyage. Was it days or years that had passed since? (16.78)

    How was Charlotte's hair important to who she was? How is it now just as important to who she has become?

    "Miss Doyle," he asked, with what I could have sworn was a slight smile about his lips, "do you desire to withdraw your claim to being a member of this crew? That is to say, do you wish to hide behind your father's name, and thus avoid judgment by these men?" (18.24)

    The question of Charlotte's newfound independence starts to get tricky once she finds herself in Captain Jaggery's courtroom. The captain asks if Charlotte wishes to give up her place on the crew and instead use her father's name for protection. She, of course, says no. Why is it dangerous, though, that Charlotte is standing all by herself? She's innocent, right? Shouldn't that be enough? Or does justice sometimes depend not on what you do, but on who you are?

    With a start – for it is a curious fact that I had not truly considered my family for a time – I began to contemplate an accounting to them of all that had happened – if I lived. With great vividness I pictured myself relating my adventure, while they, grouped about, listened in rapt, adoring attention, astonished yet proud of me. At the mere anticipation, my heart swelled with pride.

    I was still basking in these dreams when I heard the sounds of someone approaching me. (20.34-35)

    On the eve of the second mutiny, Charlotte imagines that her family will appreciate her adventures and will applaud her for the courageous person she has become over the past couple of months. She even sees herself as the object of their admiration. Note that the word "dreams" appears in this description. Is Charlotte being far too idealistic about how her family will respond to who she has become?

    Do you remember, Charlotte, what I first told you when you came aboard? That you, a girl, and I, an old black man, were unique to the sea?

    "Yes."

    "The greater fact is," he said, "I am unique everywhere."

    "And I?"

    "Who can say now?" he answered. "I can only tell you this, Charlotte. A sailor chooses the wind that takes the ship from a safe port. Ah, yes, but once you're aboard, as you have seen, winds have a mind of their own. Be careful, Charlotte, careful of the wind you choose." (22.21-22.25)

    Zachariah has always drawn parallels between Charlotte and himself; however, here he hints that there are also differences. While both are outcasts, Zachariah suggests that this is perhaps more so the case for him. What exactly does Zachariah mean by this? How is his identity different from Charlotte's? And why are both connected with the sea?

    Boldly now, I walked up the gangplank.

    "Who is that?" came a challenge.

    I said nothing.

    "Who is that?" came the demand again. Now I was certain of the voice.

    "Zachariah?" I called, my voice choked.

    Charlotte!

    "I've decided to come home." (22.198-204)

    At the end of the book, Charlotte is very literally asked to identify herself. (A voice calls out, "Who is that?") What does she answer? Why? Is this exchange a metaphor for the way in which Charlotte has been able to figure out who she is through a connection she has made with someone else? How has Zachariah helped her find herself?

  • Gender

    How shall I describe the person I once was? At the age of thirteen I was very much a girl, having not yet begun to take the shape, much less the heart, of a woman. Still, my family dressed me as a young woman, bonnet covering my beautiful hair, full skirts, high button shoes, you may be sure, white gloves. I certainly wanted to be a lady. It was not just my ambition; it was my destiny. I embraced it wholly, gladly, with not an untoward thought of anything else. (Preface.3)

    At age thirteen Charlotte is, much like a Britney Spears song, "not a girl, not yet a woman." As her body has yet to bloom, Charlotte's first ideas about what it means to be feminine have a whole lot to do with clothing. Skirts! Shoes! Gloves! You get the picture. This passage also sets up the very important distinction between gender and sex. Sex has to do with biology (Charlotte's actual body is female), while gender is socially constructed (that is, Charlotte can put on clothes and become feminine).

    Never mind that my dress – having been worn for four days – was creased and misshapen, my white gloves a sodden gray. Never mind that my fine hair must have been hanging like a horse's tail, in almost complete disarray. With all eyes upon us as we crossed the ship's waist to the bowsprit and figurehead, I felt like a princess being led to her throne. (6.1)

    Charlotte isn't able to keep up her feminine appearance (her clothes are nasty at this point), yet she stills feels like a lady. A princess, even! But why? Is it because of the big strong captain who's leading her out on the deck? (Dashing, isn't he?) What does that say about what it means to be a woman, at least in Charlotte's mind?

    Captain Jaggery and Mr. Zachariah! Such unlike men! And yet, quite suddenly I was struck by the thought that each of them, in his own way, was courting me.

    Courting me! I could not help but smile. Well no, not courting in the real sense. But surely courting me for friendship.

    What a queer notion! But I must confess, it filled me with smug pleasure. (7.30-7.32)

    Charlotte thinks of Captain Jaggery and Zachariah as her would-be suitors (creepy), and what's more, she totally gets pleasure out of this (creepy squared). Is Charlotte's relationship with each man about power in some way? What stops her from seeing the captain or Zachariah as her equal?

    So saying he presented me with a pair of canvas trousers and blouse, a kind of miniature of what the crew wore – garments he himself had made.

    While I thanked him kindly, in fact I took the gift as a warning that I had been forgetting my station. I told him – rather stiffly, I fear – that I thought it not proper for me, a girl – a lady – to wear such apparel. But, so as not to offend too deeply, I took the blouse and trousers to my cabin. (8.24-8.25)

    Being the clothes horse that she is, Charlotte has some very definite ideas about what a girl, er, a lady, is not to wear. But what does Charlotte mean when she says she's been "forgetting her station"? Is being friends with Zachariah also something that Charlotte would deem unladylike? Why?

    With fumbling, nervous hands I put on the seaman's clothing. The trousers and shirt felt stiff, heavy, like some skin not my own. My bare toes curled upon the wooden floor.

    I stood some while to question my heart. Zachariah's words to Fisk, that I was the "very soul of justice" echoed within me. (12.108-12.109)

    As Charlotte's role on the boat changes, so too does her wardrobe. And from all the fuss she's made about clothes, we know that there must have been some big, big changes going on. Charlotte is basically gender bending at this point (i.e., putting on clothing typically reserved for hard-working sailor men), though we should also take note of the passage's emphasis on her body. What does she mean by a "skin" that's not her own?

    "I do mean it," I said, finding boldness with repetition, "I want to be the replacement for Mr. Johnson."

    "You're a girl," Dillingham spat out contemptuously.

    "A pretty girl," Foley put in. It was not meant as a compliment. "Takes more than canvas britches to hide that."

    "And a gentlewoman," was Grimes's addition, as though that was the final evidence of my essential uselessness. (13.3-13.6)

    The men of the crew are as suspicious of Charlotte's being a girl (her gender) as they are of her being a gentlewoman (her class). How are the two (class and gender) intertwined? The men also seem a bit nervous about Charlotte's physical attractiveness. Why?

    The captain turned to the first mate. "Mr. Hollybrass, remove Miss Doyle's belongings from her cabin. Let her take her place in the forecastle with the crew. Put her down as Mister Doyle and list Miss Doyle in the log as lost. From this point on I expect to see that he works with the rest. (14.19)

    The captain seems to think it's important that, since Charlotte is now a member of the crew, she be addressed as "Mister Doyle." Charlotte's sex may still be the same (that is, she's still got a girl's body), but her gender role is now completely different. We guess that means no more tea in the captain's cabin.

    I was given a hammock placed in a corner. Around this a piece of torn sail was tacked up as a kind of curtain. The space was private for me, and kept that way. (14.28)

    Though Charlotte has taken on the name "Mister Doyle," she's still different from the rest of the crew. We mean, she's still, biologically speaking, a female, yes? Do you think the curtain is a realistic solution to the problem of Charlotte's, um, body?

    "Is the way you dress unnatural?"

    "Not for the work I do..."

    "What work is that?"

    "As a member of the crew."

    "Is being a crew member not unnatural for a girl?"

    "Unusual," I insisted. "Not unnatural."

    "Your hair?"

    "I could not work with it long!"

    "Work?"

    "I am one of this crew."

    "Unnatural," he said.

    "Unusual," said I. (18.192-18.203)

    In the courtroom scene, we're asked to think about Charlotte's gender bending. Is it "unusual" or "unnatural"? Jaggery argues that a girl dressing as a boy is unnatural and goes against the laws of nature. (Uh, since when did the laws of nature dictate what we wear? We'd really like to know.) Charlotte insists that wearing pants and cutting her hair is out of the ordinary, perhaps, but these things have more to do with society than with nature.

    He walked to the far corner of his cabin and picked up what looked like a bundle of clothing. He dumped it at my feet. I saw by the light of my lantern that it was the garments I had set aside weeks ago – a lifetime ago, it seemed - for my disembarkation. White dress. Stockings. Shoes. Gloves. Bonnet. All in perfect order. (21.45)

    The captain seems to believe, as Charlotte once did, that the first step in making someone into a proper young lady is to get her into some nice clean clothes. Charlotte may have been down with that kind of thing when the journey first started, but now these garments symbolize something else entirely. How have Charlotte's dress and gloves become a symbol of restraint, silence, and even imprisonment?

  • Transformation

    What could I do? All my life I had been trained to obey, educated to accept. I could hardly change in a moment. "Please lead me," I mumbled, as near to fainting as one could be without actually succumbing. (2.19)

    Charlotte allows herself to be led onto the ship, though she has serious reservations about whether or not she should make the journey. Why? Because she's been trained to obey authority, not to question it. The passage suggests that learning to think for herself is going to take some time for Charlotte.

    If you will be kind enough to recollect that during my life I had never once – not for a moment – been without the support, the guidance, the protection of my elders, you will accept my words as being without exaggeration when I tell you that at that moment I was certain I had been placed in a coffin. My coffin. It's hardly to be wondered, then, that I burst into tears of vexation, crying with fear, rage, and humiliation. (2.51)

    Charlotte is all by herself: cut off from her family, friends, and anyone who might be able to protect her. That she compares her cabin to a coffin suggests that she views this isolation as a kind of death – pretty dramatic. After death, though, comes rebirth, right? Let's hope so.

    Now and again I would feel a rough-skinned but gentle hand beneath my head. I would open my eyes, and there was Zachariah's ancient black face close by, murmuring soft, comforting sounds, spooning warm gruel or tea into my mouth – I didn't know which – as if I were some baby. Indeed, I was a baby. (3.63)

    Though Charlotte previously described her cabin as a coffin, it has become more like a womb over time. As Zachariah tends to her, Charlotte describes herself as a baby. What does this imagery suggest? What kind of transformation is taking place?

    It was a great, wood-ribbed cavern I had come to, which – because Barlow's candlelight reached only so far – melted into blackness fore and aft. I recall being struck by the notion that I was – Jonah-like – in the belly of a whale. (6.55)

    As she climbs down to the top cargo, Charlotte compares herself to a biblical figure, the prophet Jonah. In the Bible, Jonah is trapped in the belly of the whale for three days, but miraculously emerges in one piece. Jonah's story is one of resurrection. How is Charlotte's story like Jonah's? How is it unlike Jonah's?

    "Captain Jaggery!" I cried out suddenly, as much surprised as anyone that I was doing so.

    The captain, startled, turned to look at me.

    "Please, sir," I pleaded. "You mustn't."

    For a moment the captain said nothing. His face had become very white. "Why mustn't I?" he asked.

    "It's... it's not... fair," I stammered. (11.43-11.47)

    A major turning point for Charlotte happens when she witnesses Captain Jaggery brutally whip Zachariah. While she had previously struggled to determine what's right and what's wrong and what to do about all of it, here she finally decides that she must speak up. What is it that has caused this transformation in her behavior? What would you do?

    He took another step toward me. I'd wedged myself against the outward rail. In a gesture of defense I pulled up my arm, and so doing flicked the whip through the air, inflicting a cut across the captain's face. (11.61)

    Charlotte isn't only speaking her mind, but she's also taking action. In this scene, Charlotte goes from playing defense to offense. Whether she means to or not, by flicking Jaggery with the whip she totally turns the table on him. Now who has the power?

    I stepped out of my cabin and crept through the steerage. It was dawn. To the distant east, I could see the thinnest edge of sun. All else remained dark. I moved to the galley, praying I would meet no one before I reached it. For once my prayers were answered. I was not noticed.

    I paused at the doorway. "Mr. Fisk," I whispered.

    He straightened up, turned, saw me. I had, at least, the satisfaction of his surprise.

    "I've come," I managed to say, "to be one of the crew." (12.110-12.113)

    At the end of Part I, Charlotte puts on her new clothes and steps out of her cabin to join the crew. The scene is set just as the sun is beginning to rise. Both Charlotte and the day are getting a new start. What does the imagery accomplish? Why connect Charlotte's transformation to events in the natural world?

    "Miss Doyle," the captain said with barely suppressed fury. "What is the meaning of this?"

    How could I explain to him? Besides, there were no words left within me. I had gone through too many transformations of mood and spirit within the last twenty-four hours. (14.2-14.3)

    Charlotte must prove herself to the other sailors by climbing to the top of the highest sail and, by doing so, something in her changes. But what is it? And why? (Or to channel the captain, "What is the meaning of this?") Notice that even for Charlotte, the change is difficult to put into words. Why do you think she has such a hard time articulating what's suddenly happening to her?

    My knowledge of physical labor had been all but nil, of course; hardly a wonder then that from the moment I joined the crew I was in pain. I ached as if my body had been racked. My skin turned pink, then red, then brown. The flesh upon my hands broke first into oozing, running sores, then metamorphosed into a new rough hide-all as promised. (14.25)

    Charlotte is not only changing on the inside, but also on the outside. The process is super painful and her body is becoming very different physically. But even though it hurts, do you think Charlotte's metamorphosis is positive? Or, at least, does she see it that way? Does the novel seem to suggest that change sometimes has to hurt in order to occur?

    Desperate, I wrapped my legs and one arm about the ropes. With one free arm I pulled my hair around, grasped it with the hand entwined in the ropes, and pulled it taut. I took the knife and hacked. With a shake of my head my thirteen year's growth of hair fell away. Feeling much lighter, I bit down onto the blade again and once more began to climb. (15.25)

    Up in the rigging, Charlotte decides to give herself a little haircut. By doing so, she's choosing to value utility over appearance and display. (Long hair only makes her job more difficult. So why should she keep it?) But how has her hair been important to her in the past? How does the signification of her hair change over time?

    Look at the way you acted! The way you've dressed! It doesn't matter that you are different, Miss Doyle. Don't flatter yourself. The difficulty is that your difference encourages them to question their places. And mine. The order of things. (21.22)

    Captain Jaggery suggests that Charlotte's personal transformation might lead others to also question their places too. And his place. And the places of ALL things! Pretty crazy, right? Do you think our own personal choices can really cause larger social transformations like that? Is change contagious?

  • Race

    "Ah, but you and I have much in common."

    "I don't think so."

    "But we do. Miss Doyle is so young! I am so old! Surely there is something similar in that. And you, the sole girl, and I, the one black, are special on this ship. In short we begin with two things in common, enough to begin a friendship." (2.78-2.80)

    Zachariah sees similarities between Charlotte and himself because they're both rather different from the others on the ship. Are the two indeed special? Why are they the ones that can, in the end, overthrow Captain Jaggery?

    Never had I met with such impertinence! That this Zachariah, my inferior, a cook, should tell such a slanderous tale of violence and cruelty regarding Captain Jaggery – to me – as thought it were a confidence – was deeply mortifying. I would not, could not believe it! (5.1)

    Charlotte automatically assumes that Zachariah, the Seahawk's cook and only black sailor, is her inferior. What is this assumption based upon?

    Mr. Hollybrass turned Zachariah so that he faced into the shrouds, then climbed up into these shrouds and with a piece of rope bound his hands, pulling him so that the old man was all but hanging from his wrists, just supporting himself on the tips of his bare toes.

    Zachariah uttered no sound.

    I turned to look at Captain Jaggery. Only then did I see that he had a whip in his hands, its four strands twitching like the tail of an angry cat. Where he got it I don't know. (11.27-11.29)

    Though Zachariah is a free man, here he's being strung up and beaten like a slave. This is an image we may have seen in literature many times before, and thus this moment becomes all the more disturbing.

    The captain remained motionless too, his face transfigured by surprise and pain. Slowly he lifted a hand to his cheek, touched it delicately, then examined his fingertips. When he saw they were bloody he swore a savage oath, jumped forward and tore the whip from my hand, whirled about and began beating Zachariah with such fury as I had never seen. Finally, spent, he flung the whip down and marched from the deck. (11.64)

    Zachariah receives the punishment, it seems, for Charlotte's transgression against the captain. (That is, her accidentally flicking Jaggery with the whip.) How are Zachariah and Charlotte related in the captain's mind? In ours?

    "Charlotte, don't you see me?" came the voice, more insistent than before. Now the light - it was a small candle - was held up and I could see more of him. The very image of Zachariah - but sadly altered too. In life he had never appeared strong or large. In death he'd become shriveled, gray-bearded. (17.6)

    In this scene Zachariah returns, seemingly, from the grave. He never really died, of course, but the image and idea of resurrection is still quite important. What did Zachariah's sacrifice accomplish on the ship? What change did it bring about?

    "Zachariah..."

    "What?"

    "You're... a black man."

    "That I am. But this state of Rhode Island where we're going, it has no more slaves." He suddenly checked himself. "Or am I wrong?"

    "A black man, Zachariah, a common sailor, testifying against a white officer..." I didn't have the heart to finish. (17.39-17.43)

    Even though he's a free man and supposedly equal to others, Zachariah still faces potential injustices in America. Why would Captain Jaggery's word be taken over Zachariah's?

    "Where is your home?" I asked suddenly.

    "The east coast of Africa."

    "Were you ever a salve?"

    "Not I," he said proudly. (22.11-22.14)

    Why is it significant that Zachariah was never a slave? Though he is a free man, does he have the same rights and liberties as someone like Captain Jaggery? Why or why not?

    "Do you remember, Charlotte, what I first told you when you came aboard? That you, a girl, and I, an old black man, were unique to the sea?"

    "Yes."

    "The greater fact is," he said, "I am unique everywhere." (22.22-22.24)

    Zachariah's race makes him unique everywhere.

    "What is it?" I asked.

    "I just thought of what you look like!" Evelina said.

    "What?"

    She wrinkled her nose. "An Indian!"

    Albert laughed.

    "Children!" my father cried. With much effort Albert and Evelina sat still. (22.83-22.88)

    Because of her sunburn, Charlotte's sister suggests that she resembles an "Indian" – a person of Native American descent. The scene suggests that our understanding of race can change, and that perhaps it's also malleable and a social construction.

    Something Zachariah told me filled my mind and excited my heart: "A sailor," he said, "Chooses the wind that takes the ship from safe port... but winds have a mind of their own." (22.206)

    The novel ends with Zachariah's words getting written down by Charlotte. That is, she quotes him and uses that quote as the novel's last words. Why is this significant? How do you think Zachariah and Charlotte need each other?

  • Rules and Order

    "I have no desire to speak to any of you again," the captain continued. "Mr. Hollybrass here, as first mate, shall be my voice. So too, Mr. Keetch as second mate. Separation makes for an honest crew. An honest crew makes a fair voyage. A fair voyage brings a profit, and profit, my good gentleman, doth turn the world. (3.38)

    In Captain Jaggery's first speech to the crew of the Seahawk, he forcefully outlines the chain of command that the men must follow. He also, however, reveals what it is that this orderly system of rules is built upon: cash money! That's right, profit makes the world go round, and all of the captain's rules are in place to ensure that the Seahawk's voyage is as profitable as possible, even if that means risking others' lives. Needless to say, Captain Jaggery's orderly system is driven mainly by greed.

    No, we shall have no democracy here. No parliaments. No congressmen. There's but one master on this ship, and that is me. (3.39)

    Judging by his word choice (e.g., "parliament," "democracy," "congressmen"), Captain Jaggery recognizes that a ship is governed much like a nation. However, the government Jaggery proposes is not one of the people, by the people, or for the people. The captain declares instead that he's the master, and hence the only one running the show. Despotism, it is!

    "A ship, Miss Doyle...is a nation of its own."

    "Mr. Zachariah..."

    "The nations of the earth, Miss Doyle, they have kings and emperors..."

    "And presidents," I added, loyal American that I was.

    "Yes, and presidents. But when a ship is upon the sea, there's but one who rules. As God is to his people, as king to his nation, as father to his family, so is captain to his crew. Sheriff. Judge and jury. He is all." (4.26-4.30)

    Zachariah explains that Captain Jaggery's form of rule is all-inclusive. He's like a king and a father, sure, but he's also the sheriff, the judge, and the jury of the ship. Is it dangerous to invest only one person with all of this power? Does absolute power corrupt absolutely?

    "I am a punctilious man, Miss Doyle. Without order, there is chaos. Chaos on shipboard is sailing without a rudder." (5.56)

    The captain often describes himself and his system of rules as "punctilious." This choice of words is significant, as "punctilious" (SAT word much?) is simply a polite way of saying that Jaggery is a bit of a tyrant when it comes to rules and order. Why does the captain feel the need to dress up his language? Also, what is it exactly that the captain is so afraid of? Might there be another word to describe what he thinks of as "chaos"?

    "'Fair?' he echoed, his voice thick with derision. 'Fair? These men meant to murder me and no doubt you, Miss Doyle, and you talk of fair? If it's fairness you want, I could quote you chapter and line of the admiralty codes that say I'd serve justice best by shooting the cur.'" (11.48)

    As his reference to the "admiralty codes" indicates, there are rules in place that uphold, support, and perhaps even create the kind of cruelty that Captain Jaggery practices. Is the problem, then, really with Captain Jaggery or is it more with the system that promotes him?

    But I, in a rage myself, wouldn't give way. "I can't wait till Providence!" I shouted at him. "I'll go right to the courts! You won't be captain long! You'll be seen by everyone as the cruel despot you are!" And I spat upon the deck by his boots. (14.85)

    Charlotte's new position as a member of the crew has given her courage (and fueled her temper), and she now directly challenges the kind of order imposed by Captain Jaggery. Do you think, though, that the courts would take her complaints seriously? Why or why not?

    "So what we have here is a girl who admits she owns the weapon that murdered Mr. Hollybrass. A girl who lied about where she got it. A girl who was taught to use a blade, and learned to use it, as Mr. Grimes would have it, 'uncommon' well. A girl who, all agree, is unnatural in every way she acts. Gentleman, do we not, as natural men, need to take heed? Is it not our duty, our obligation, to protect the natural order of the world?" (18.159)

    The captain argues that Charlotte's gender bending makes her not just "unusual" but "unnatural." That is, her behavior violates not just the rules of society, but the "natural order of the world." Why is this argument so effective? How is it also incredibly flawed?

    "And he has the whole crew agreeing with his judgment. He was that careful. Punctilious," I spat out, remembering the word the captain had used to describe himself.

    "I don't know the word."

    "Everything in order."

    "Aye that's him." (19.7-19.10)

    Notice that the captain is again described as "punctilious," this time by Charlotte. Why is it significant that Zachariah doesn't know the word? Notice, too, that later in the chapter, the captain is described as being possessed with "madness," a condition that suggests a lack of rational judgment (19.97). Is the captain then orderly and chaotic? Can he be both all at once?

    "I have spent considerable time in setting the room to rights. Have I not done well? Order, Miss Doyle, order is all. Take away the light and ..." He leaned over and blew the candles out. "You see – it's hard to notice the difference. Everything appears in order." (21.38)

    At this point, Captain Jaggery is not so concerned with actual order as much as the appearance of it. After the storm, everything in his quarters is broken, but Jaggery does his best to put things back in their place. Why is it significant, though, that all of the stuff in his cabin only seems to be in order when the room is dark? What do the lights symbolize? How about the storm?

    "You are young, Charlotte," he told me. "The young are capable of absorbing many shocks and still maintaining an..." He searched for the proper words.

    "An orderly life?" I offered.

    He smiled the first smile I had seen in a long while.

    "Yes, exactly, Charlotte. Orderly. You give me much hope. You and I now understand each other perfectly. Good night, my dear girl. Good night." He took up his book again. (22.191-22.193)

    Like Captain Jaggery, Charlotte's father is fixed on the idea of order. Everything in their Rhode Island house reflects this idea: from the servants to the dinner table. Could Charlotte thrive in an environment such as this? Conversely, can order ever be a positive thing, or must it always be considered negative?

  • Justice and Judgment

    Indeed, the one unique aspect of this ship was a carved figurehead of a pale white seahawk beneath the bowsprit. Its wings were thrust back against the bow; its head extended forward, beak wide-open, red tongue protruding as if screaming. In the shadowy light that twisted and distorted its features I was struck by the notion that this figure looked more like an angry, avenging angel than a docile bird. (1.60)

    The ship's figurehead makes Charlotte think of an "avenging angel." To be "avenged" means to seek justice for a past wrong. How does the carved seahawk foreshadow the events that will follow? Mr. Cranick is seeking his own personal revenge, but also think about the idea of "justice" in a larger sense – what larger wrongs are righted during this journey?

    Mr. Grummage drew himself up. "Miss Doyle," he said loftily, "in my world, judgments as to rights and wrongs are left to my Creator, not to children. Now, be so good as to board the Seahawk. At once!" (1.75)

    Mr. Grummage doesn't trust Charlotte's judgment because she's a child. It's no wonder, then, that Charlotte doesn't trust herself to make important decisions. Grummage puts his faith instead in the Creator, though it's sort of unclear why the Creator would want Charlotte to get on the boat with a bunch of scary, manly sailors.

    Zachariah cocked his head to one side. "Miss Doyle, do you believe in justice?"

    "I am an American, Mr. Zachariah."

    "Ah! Justice for all?"

    "For those who deserve it." (4.47-4.50)

    Charlotte reveals her prejudices in that she does not, at least at this point in the novel, consider "justice" to be a universal human right. Instead, she suggests that justice should be given only to those who deserve it. What exactly does she mean by that? Also, why does she mention being an American? While the Pledge of Allegiance may promise "justice for all," is that always the case? (The Pledge of Allegiance, by the way, was composed in 1892 by Francis Bellamy. That Zachariah references the oath in 1832 is a tiny anachronism. Oh well.)

    "I don't believe you!" I exclaimed. "Justice is poorly served when you speak ill of your betters." It was a phrase I had heard my father use many times. (4.52)

    Charlotte makes this declaration in reaction to Zachariah's story about Jaggery's cruelty, and given Zachariah's lowly status, she doesn't believe it for a minute (even though it's, well, totally true, as it turns out). Just because someone is poor or elderly or black, does that mean we shouldn't trust what he or she says? Is that really "justice"? That's what Charlotte seems to think here. We also learn that Charlotte's ideas about justice have been inherited from her father.

    "If Captain Jaggery was so cruel, why should they have signed on again?"

    Zachariah leaned close to me. "Revenge," he whispered.

    "Revenge?" I echoed weakly.

    The old man nodded. "Because of all this I gave you that dirk." (4.68-4.71)

    While Jaggery is clearly a tyrant, the way that the men propose to deal with him is also a bit of a problem. How is cold-blooded revenge not an adequate system of justice? Does exacting personal revenge simply create a never-ending cycle of violence? (Think of all those tragedies out there, especially Romeo and Juliet.) Also, note that the men's need for revenge is precisely why Charlotte is given her own knife. Violence just begets more violence.

    "And what kind of justice do you offer?" the captain asked. "Nothing precisely legal, I presume."

    "We demand you stand before us in a trial of your peers," Cranick answered.

    "Trial! Peers!" the captain cried mockingly. "I see nothing but ruffians and villains, the scum of the sea!"

    "Then we proclaim ourselves your peers," Cranick cried. (10.30-10.33)

    Cranick wants revenge for Captain Jaggery's crimes – crimes that were brought to the attention of the admiralty courts but went unpunished. Captain Jaggery, however, thinks this idea is ridiculous, since he views the men as mere "scum." Do you think the crew's social standing has any bearing on whether or not they deserve a fair judgment? Do you think mutiny is the best way to obtain justice?

    "What's the matter?"

    The pain in my heart made it impossible for me to speak.

    "Tell me," he coaxed.

    "Zachariah..."

    "What?"

    "You're... a black man."

    "That I am. But this state of Rhode Island where we're going, it has no more slaves." He suddenly checked himself. "Or am I wrong?"

    "A black man, Zachariah, a common sailor, testifying against a white officer..." I didn't have the heart to finish. (17.36-17.43)

    Even though Zachariah is a free man in America, he must still battle inequalities. Because Zachariah is both a black man and a common sailor, the captain (who's white and an officer) will have the advantage in a court of law. (Notice how race and class are closely bound together.) We see that it's not just Captain Jaggery who's the problem; it's the society that favors him. That's how oppression works: it's not just individuals, but whole systems that work to privilege some and not others. Bummer.

    In the ship's waist, on the starboard side, he had assembled the crew in two rows, some sitting on the deck, the rest standing behind the front rank. Before them – atop the central cargo hatch - a chair had been placed. The captain hurried me past the crew – none of whom would look me in the eye – and instructed me to sit in the chair, saying it would serve as the prisoner's dock.

    Now he took his place in one of his fine cabin chairs. It had been set up high behind the quarterdeck rail, a rail that he pounded sharply with the butt of his pistol. (18.2-18.3)

    The captain's sense of justice is highly theatrical: notice how the deck of the ship becomes a stage for him to put on his show trial. Is this captain administering justice or simply the appearance of it? Does the courtroom setting guarantee that Charlotte will receive a fair trial? The fact that he's using a gun as a gavel is also interesting. What does this image suggest about the captain's personal brand of judgment?

    It's odd perhaps, but I was not frightened. I assumed we could succeed with our plan. Oh, what a power of faith in justice I had then! (20.80)

    On the eve of the second mutiny, Charlotte remains staunchly optimistic; however, does she still have faith in justice at the end of the novel? If so, why does she reject society and return to the high seas?

    "What you have written is rubbish of the worst taste. Stuff for penny dreadfuls! Beneath contempt. Justice, Charlotte, is poorly served when you speak ill of your betters such as Poor Captain Jaggery." (22.163)

    After reading her journal, Charlotte's father repeats the lines about justice that Charlotte herself had said to Zachariah at the beginning of the novel. Charlotte, however, no longer believes the truth of her father's (and her previous) statement. How are their understandings about justice now different?

  • Education

    Second, I would be crossing the Atlantic – a trip that could last anywhere from one to two months – during the summer, when no formal education took place. (Preface.8)

    The voyage across the Atlantic stands in for Charlotte's formal education at Barrington School for Better Girls. (Think of it as summer camp, but with, um, none of the arts and crafts.) How is the ship like or unlike a typical classroom? Who acts as Charlotte's teacher? Her classmates?

    I was given a volume of blank pages – how typical of my father! – and instructed to keep a daily journal of my voyage across the ocean so that the writing of it should prove of educational value to me. Indeed, my father warned me that not only would he read the journal and comment upon it, but he would pay particular attention to spelling - not my strongest suit. (Preface.13)

    Recording her experiences on the boat becomes a form of education for Charlotte. Charlotte's father, however, seems more interested in matters of form (as in, her spelling) than issues of content (the events that Charlotte will write about). Also, why do you think Charlotte has trouble with spelling? What does that tell us about her personality?

    "As convenient, Mr. Hollybrass, send Mr. Barlow to Miss Doyle. She needs to learn where her trunk was stowed." (6.28)

    While at school, Charlotte had her head stuck in books; however, learning aboard the Seahawk takes on a very different meaning. Charlotte must be educated about the layout of the ship, its customs, and its manners. (As must the reader! Note the illustration of the ship's parts at the end of the book.) Inevitably, her personal experiences – such as her adventure with the brown nut head, for example – take the place of formal education.

    Then there were their yarns. I hardly knew nor cared which were true and which were not. Tales of castaways on Pacific atolls never failed to move me. Solemn accounts of angels and ghosts appearing miraculously in the rigging were, by turns, thrilling and terrifying. I learned the men's language, their ways, their dreams. Above all, I cherished the notion that my contact with the crew improved them. As to what it did to me – I hardly guessed. (8.14)

    The men present Charlotte with tales the likes of which she has never heard at school: fantastic, weird, and probably fictional. As many of the crewmembers are illiterate, their culture is an oral one. (That means their stories are not written in books, but are spoken out loud.) While Charlotte finds the sailors' world fascinating, she also believes her presence is improving them. Do you think this is true? Are they also, perhaps, improving her?

    Beyond all else I had been educated to the belief that when I was wrong - and how often my patient father found me at fault - it was my responsibility – mine alone – to admit my fault and make amends.

    Gradually then, I came to believe that no matter how distasteful, I must beg the captain's forgiveness. And the sooner I did so, the better. (12.6-12.7)

    Charlotte reveals what a huge influence her father has been on her education – and how his teachings and values still very much influence her behavior even out on her own. Also, Charlotte appears to be taking responsibility for herself, but what real good comes out of her apology to the captain? What would you have done?

    "I want to show that I stand with you," I pleaded. "That I made a mistake."

    "A mistake?" Foley snapped. "Two able-bodied men have died!"

    "Besides," Dillingham agreed, "you'll bring more trouble than good."

    "You can teach me," I offered.

    "God's fist," Grimes cried. "She thinks this a school." (13.7-13.11)

    Charlotte finally realizes that the men have something to teach her. Notice how Charlotte's and the crew's ideas about education are very different. Grimes scoffs at the idea that the ship is a school or that Charlotte could become their student. How is learning different in each environment? How is it similar?

    Once I had showed myself willing to do what they did – by climbing in the rigging – once they saw me stand up to Jaggery, an intense apprenticeship commenced. And for it the crewman became my teachers. They helped me, worked with me, guided me past the mortal dangers that lurked in every task. In this they were far more patient with all my repeated errors than those teachers at the Barrington School for Better Girls when there was nothing to learn but penmanship, spelling, and the ancient authors of morality. (14.21)

    After proving herself to the crew, Charlotte's re-education officially commences, and she begins acquiring a new set of skills. What is it, exactly, that she's learning? Clearly, she's not practicing penmanship or spelling. But we don't think her education is only about deck swabbing either. What do you think her new education is made up of?

    "When I sent you to the Barrington School for Better Girls, I had been, reliably informed that it would provide you with an education consistent with your station in life, to say nothing of your expectations and ours for you. I was deceived. Somehow your teachers there filled your mind with the unfortunate capacity to invent the most outlandish, not to say unnatural tales." (22.159)

    Charlotte's father believes her journal to be pure fiction. Interestingly, he blames her "unnatural" tales on the instructors at the Barrington School for Better Girls – oh, but of course. Why is the idea that Charlotte might actually be telling the truth – or that she could have learned something from the sailors – so hard for him to believe? Better yet, why does he call her writing unnatural? Is it possible for the written word to violate the laws of nature?

    "What you have written is rubbish of the worst taste. Stuff for penny dreadfuls. Beneath contempt. Justice, Charlotte, is poorly served when you speak ill of your betters such as poor Captain Jaggery. More to the point, Charlotte, your spelling is an absolute disgrace. Never have I seen such abominations. And the grammar... It is beyond belief!

    An American tutor, miss, shall instill a little order in your mind. But the spelling, Charlotte, the spelling..." (22.163-22.164)

    It's the grammar that's beyond belief? Really, Mr. Doyle? Really? (Cue Seth and Amy voice.) Weirdly enough, the main concern of Charlotte's father isn't so much the content of her journal (the meaning of her words) but the form (her spelling and punctuation of those words). Right. Do you think maybe Charlotte's father might be missing the bigger point? Is he attempting to maintain order or merely the appearance of it? Think of this scene in relation to Captain Jaggery's battered cabin on board the Seahawk (21.36).

    On September the eighth – surely one of the longest days I can remember – I informed everyone at the table that I wished to be excused to continue the reading that was so occupying me.

    "What are you studying, my dear?" my mother asked nervously.

    "Dr. Dillard's essay on patience, Mama."

    "How very gratifying," she said. (22.182-22.185)

    Charlotte pretends to be returning to her former course of education, but actually plans on returning to the Seahawk. How is the text she claims to be reading, an essay on patience, ironic?

  • Choices

    The dockside was deserted and growing darker. I felt like taking myself up the gangplank in search of Mr. Grummage. But, alas, my good manners prevailed. I remained where I was, standing in a dream-like state, thinking I know not what. (1.61)

    As the novel begins, there's a tension between what Charlotte wants to do and what she actually does. Charlotte would like to go find Mr. Grummage, but she's held back by what she thinks is proper. Instead of making her own decisions, she lets society decide for her. Plus, she's kind of just standing around, spacing out. (Earth to Charlotte! Wake up!)

    "But Mr. Grummage, sir," I asked in dismay, "what shall I do?"

    "Do?" Miss Doyle, your father left orders that you were to travel on this ship at this time. I've very specific, written orders in that regard. He left no money to arrange otherwise. As for myself, he said, "I'm off for Scotland tonight on pressing business." (1.70-1.71)

    Though Charlotte has a bad feeling about the journey, Mr. Grummage convinces her that she has no choice but to follow the orders of her absent father. As Grummage is the only authority figure in sight, Charlotte will be doing just that. Also interesting are Grummage's motivations: he seems to care much more about business than about Charlotte's personal welfare, wouldn't you say? (Remind you of anyone else? Perhaps the captain and his desire for profit at all costs?)

    Thus I forced myself to believe that I had acted the part of a foolish schoolgirl too apt to make the worst of strange surroundings. And so I found a way to set aside my worries and fears. (7.25)

    After Charlotte sees the grinning nut head in the top cargo, she realizes there must be someone else on board; however, she actively chooses not trust her own judgment. Does she really have that little faith in herself, at this point? And if so, why might that be?

    "Why the devil did you not tell me before?" he demanded

    "I didn't trust my own senses, sir." (9.119-9.120)

    Charlotte (again!) chooses not to believe in her ability to assess a situation. How does her lack of confidence keep her from making important decisions?

    "Captain Jaggery!" I cried out suddenly, as much surprised as anyone that I was doing so.

    The captain, startled, turned to look at me.

    "Please, sir," I pleaded. "You mustn't."

    For a moment the captain said nothing. His face had become very white. "Why mustn't I?" he asked.

    "It's... it's not... fair," I stammered. (11.43-11.47)

    Charlotte decides to speak up at last and intervene in the horror that's unfolding before her eyes. But why now?

    Aside from reliving the fearsome events, I was trying desperately to decide what to do. (12.4)

    At the end of Part I, we see Charlotte, as always, trying to decide what to do. However, after the encounter on the deck with the captain and the whip, she can no linger sit idly by. She must act.

    But when I continued to stand there – unmoving, making no response – he suddenly shouted, "Did you not hear me? Get to your cabin!"

    "I won't," I blurted out. "I'm no longer a passenger. I'm with them." So saying, I stepped back until I sensed the men around me. (14.8-14.9)

    Charlotte chooses to become one of the crew and, in doing so, defies the direct orders of Captain Jaggery. Why doesn't he stop her? How are her decisions coming to bear on how others perceive her?

    He turned to the crew. "Does anyone wish to make a statement on this girl's behalf?"

    No one spoke.

    "Miss Doyle," he said, "do you wish to say anything?"

    "My father-"

    "Miss Doyle," the captain cried out, "when we began I offered you the opportunity of claiming the protection of your father. You refused it then!"

    Miserable, I could only bow my head.

    He turned to the crew. "Does anyone wish to make a statement on this girl's behalf?"

    No one spoke.

    "Miss Doyle," he said. "Do you wish to say anything?"

    Miserable, I could only shake my head. (18.206-18.215)

    Though Charlotte is innocent, she finds it impossible to speak during Captain Jaggery's prosecution. The courtroom paralyzes Charlotte, as it does the crew. Why does no one raise his voice? What is it about the courtroom that robs Charlotte and the men of their ability to act?

    "Miss Doyle," he said, "if you want to save your life you will tell me. I am trying to help you, but I cannot manage it without your thoughts. You have some choices, Miss Doyle. Shall I make them clear? Do you prefer to dangle from a yardarm by your neck? Or do you wish to walk free? What do you want, Miss Doyle?"

    "To live."

    He sighed. "Then speak." (19.41-19.43)

    Charlotte's choices have now become a matter of life and death. In this situation, to speak is to live. To be silent is to be dead. Does speaking become a kind of agency for Charlotte? (To have "agency" means to have the capacity to act. It's a cool, smart word. Use it.)

    "What if I don't accept any of them?"

    He hesitated. "Miss Doyle, I thought I made it clear. There are no other choices."

    "You're wrong," I said. And so saying, I turned and rushed out of his cabin, along the steerage and into the waist of the ship. (21.50-21.52)

    The captain gives Charlotte three choices: she can be disgraced, she can beg for mercy, or she can be hanged. (Hm, how about none of the above?) Not surprisingly, Charlotte rejects all of these options and decides, instead, to go with a choice all her own. Is it significant that she doesn't take any of the paths offered to her by the captain? Are you impressed that she's finally making a decision all on her own? (We sure are.) And how does this relate to the choice Charlotte makes at the end of the book?

    Something Zachariah told me filled my mind and excited my heart: "A sailor," he said, "chooses the wind that takes the ship from safe port... but winds have a mind of their own." (22.206)

    Charlotte has made her final and most significant decision: she's leaving her family and rejoining the crew on the Seahawk. We might see the choice as a very positive one (at long last, she's doing just what she wants to do!), but what does Zachariah's mention of the wind mean? Can Charlotte ever completely control her own destiny?

  • Appearance

    A man was waiting for us. He was a small man – most seafaring mean are small – barely taller than I and dressed in a frayed green jacket over a white shirt that was none too clean. His complexion was weathered dark, his chin ill-shaven. His mouth was unsmiling. His fingers fidgeted and his feet shuffled. His daring, unfocused eyes, set deep in a narrow ferret-like face, gave the impression of one who is constantly on watch for threats that might appear from any quarter at any moment. (2.1)

    Charlotte's narration is always attentive to the others' physical appearance, as in this description of the ship's second mate, Mr. Keetch. Some say you can't judge a book by its cover, but Charlotte often does exactly this, and makes assumptions about character based on physical appearance. (She's especially interested in clothing as it relates to social status.)

    There was nothing else. No porthole. No chair. Not so much as a single piece of polite ornamentation. It was ugly, unnatural, and, as I stooped there, impossible. (2.29)

    Charlotte violently objects to the squalor of her cabin. She calls the lack of ornate furnishings not only "ugly," but also "unnatural." The latter is not an insignificant word. In the novel's courtroom scene, Charlotte will have to defend herself against charges of being "unnatural" (Chapter 18).

    From his fine coat, from his tall beaver hat, from his glossy black boots, from his clean, chiseled countenance, from the dignified way he carried himself, I knew at once – without having to be told – that this must be Captain Jaggery. And he – I saw it in a glance – was a gentleman, the kind of man I was used to. A man to be trusted. In short, a man to whom I could talk and upon whom I could rely. (3.13)

    In Charlotte's mind, outer beauty – things like fancy hats and good posture and all that – equals inner beauty. Stuff like solid moral worth. With her eye for fashion, Charlotte seems to read clothing as a language all its own. But is she reading correctly?

    Then I dressed. Unfortunately my starched clothing had gone everlastingly limp and became increasingly soiled. Hardly a button remained in place. Though I tried not to touch anything, those white gloves of mine had turned the color of slate. (8.4)

    Charlotte finds it difficult to maintain her appearance on the boat, and her clothes become utterly filthy. Is her outward appearance the only thing that is changing?

    At last I heaved myself off the bed, and from under it brought out the canvas seaman's garments Zachariah had made for me. Some roaches skittered away. I held the wrinkled clothing up and looked at its crude shape, its mean design. The feel of the crude cloth made me falter. (12.106)

    Given Charlotte's previous emphasis on proper dressing, her new wardrobe – crude seaman's garments – marks a larger transformation. Is putting on wrinkled clothes kind of a big deal for Charlotte? How come?

    "Hold out your hands," he demanded.

    Fisk nudged me. I held them out, palms up.

    Foley peered over them. "Like bloody cream," he said with disgust. "Touch mine!" he insisted and extended his. Gingerly, I touched one of them. His skin was like rough leather.

    "That's the hands you'd get, miss. Like an animal. Is that what you want?"

    "I don't care," I said stoutly. (13.19-13.23)

    Charlotte's former attitudes about keeping up appearances have gone out the window. Not only is she willing to put on sailor pants, but she's also fine with having her skin get as tough as animal hide. Her new station in life – that of a sailor – will physically change her body, she knows, but not her humanity.

    "Miss Doyle," he said between gritted teeth, "you will go to your cabin, remove those obscene garments and put on your proper dress. You are causing a disruption. I will not allow it." (14.7)

    Jaggery claims that Charlotte's appearance as a boy causes a disruption on the boat. Do you think this is so? Why might the captain believe this? How can the way one person looks disturb anyone else?

    The man before me was not the same Captain Andrew Jaggery I'd seen on the quarterdeck the first day we sailed. True, he still wore his fine clothes, but the jacket was soiled and showed any number of rips. A cuff was frayed, a button gone. Small points perhaps, but not for a man of his fastidiousness. And the whip mark, though no longer so pronounced, had become a thin white line – like a persistent, painful memory. (16.47)

    Does the captain's deteriorating appearance reflect his deteriorating sanity? What is the significance of his scar?

    I saw now what I had not seen before in the light of the moon. In the candlelight I could see that much of the furniture was cracked. Many legs had splints. Upholstery was water stained. Frames on the walls hung crookedly. Some had pictures missing. Maps and papers on the table were wrinkled or sadly torn. The tea service on the table was dented and tarnished, but arranged and presented as whole. The chess pieces were, I now realized, no more than salt and pepper shakers, broken cups, bent candlesticks. (21.36)

    The storm has greatly damaged the appearance of Captain Jaggery's cabin, and he's unable to accept the loss. He tries to hide the cracks by keeping the lights out. How is this moment a metaphor for the larger events happening on the ship? What, specifically, do you think are the significances of the tea set and the chessboard? What do they symbolize?

    We settled into the family carriage.

    "Why is Charlotte's dress so tattered?" Evelina asked.

    "It was a difficult voyage, dearest," my mother answered for me.

    "And her gloves are so dirty," Albert chimed in.

    "Albert!" Papa reproved him.

    But then, after we'd gone on apace in silence, my mother said, "Charlotte, your face is so very brown." (22.40-22.45)

    Charlotte's family fixates on her clothing, just as she fixated on the clothing, skin, and manners of the men as she was first brought aboard the Seahawk. Has she come completely full circle?

  • Society and Class

    Though all my being agreed with him, my training – that it was wrong for a man of his low station to presume to advise me of anything – rose to the surface. I drew myself up. "Mr. Barlow," I said stiffly, "it's my father who has arranged it all." (2.46)

    Charlotte judges Barlow based on his social status, rather than on the correctness of his advice. Weird, too, because she says she agrees with him! What is it about Charlotte's "training" that prevents her from trusting her own instincts?

    In fact, the thought of tea was extraordinarily comforting, a reminder that the world I knew had not entirely vanished. (2.62)

    A nice pot of tea sounds pretty good to us, but for Charlotte it has an even larger significance. Tea is a luxury item that symbolizes the society of manners from which she has come. Is it significant that it's offered to her by Zachariah? Also, though Charlotte associates tea with home, it's also a commodity that would have been shipped around on the very kind of vessel that she now finds herself.

    Never had I met with such impertinence! That this Zachariah, my inferior, a cook, should tell such a slanderous tale of violence and cruelty regarding Captain Jaggery to me – as though it were a confidence – was deeply mortifying. I would not, could not believe it. (5.1)

    Charlotte is "mortified" by Zachariah's presumptuousness in addressing her as an equal. But why is Charlotte so sure the Zachariah is her "inferior," though? Is it really just because he is a cook? What do his race, class, and age have to with Charlotte's reaction?

    Every other place I'd seen aboard the Seahawk had a rough, crude look, with not the slightest hint of style or culture about them. The captain's cabin was a world apart. (5.5)

    Charlotte is absolutely delighted with the refinement and taste evident in the captain's interior decorations. She assumes that expensive furnishings in his cabin mean that the captain is a good, genteel sort of person. But is he?

    "I fear a crew such as mine has little liking for good taste or, alas, order. It offends them. But then, you and I – people of our class – we understand the better things of life, don't we?" (5.17)

    Because of their shared class background, Captain Jaggery addresses Charlotte as an equal. She is part of his "we." But is this shared pronoun merely a strategy to ensure her loyalty? Does he really regard her as his equal? You might remember that he says something very similar to the men of the crew during the courtroom scene in Chapter 18.

    Then and there – beneath the eyes of all the crew – he took up my hand, bowed over it, and touched his lips to my fingers. I fairly glowed with pride. Finally I followed – perhaps floated is a better word – after Mr. Hollybrass. (6.31)

    While Charlotte adores Captain Jaggery's chivalry, these polite gestures keep her seeing him for the tyrant that he is. Is the captain's treatment of Charlotte based on the idea that he is her equal, or that he's her superior? Is chivalry based on the idea of equality or is it more about power?

    Though I desired to make it clear that the crew and I were on different levels, I found myself spending more and more time in their company. In truth, I had endless questions to ask as to what this was and what was that. They in turn found in me a naive but eager recipient for their answers. (8.13)

    Charlotte is always aware of the class barrier between her and the crew, but her natural curiosity causes her to break those boundaries little by little. Is Charlotte finally finding out how the other half live?

    Gentlemen, do we not, as natural men, need to take heed? Is it not our duty, our obligation, to protect the natural order of the world? (18.159)

    While he previously thought of them as scum, Captain Jaggery addresses the crew as gentlemen in the courtroom. He attempts to make the men feel that they are his equals so they will side with him in convicting Charlotte. How persuasive is the captain's rhetoric?

    "Who shall be blamed for this disastrous voyage?" he asked. "It cannot be me, can it? No, it must be someone from the outside. The unnatural one. To preserve order, Miss Doyle, sacrifices must always be made. You."

    "Am I a sacrifice?" I demanded. (21.29-21.30)

    The captain declares that Charlotte "is the unnatural one," making her the ship's outcast. How will her sacrifice allow the ship's society to continue its orderly existence? Can you think of other literary works in which a character must be sacrificed for the betterment of society? (Pro tip: this is the basis for many literary tragedies.)

    "Bridget, my name is not miss. It's Charlotte."

    "I'll not be wanting to take the liberty, miss."

    I turned to face her. "Even if I want you to?"

    "I don't think the master would approve, miss."

    "But if I asked you to..."

    "Not wishing to be impertinent, miss," Bridget said in a barely audible voice, "but it's master who pays my wages."

    I looked into her eyes. Bridget looked down. I felt a pain gather about my heart. (22.110-22.116)

    Charlotte learns that, despite all that she has accomplished on the ship, her radical ideas about class probably won't be catching on in her father's house – or in his society – any time soon. After all, Bridget has to make a living, doesn't she? (Sigh. It's all about money.) Was the situation on the Seahawk a unique opportunity for equality? Why not America?

  • Literature and Writing

    Be warned, however, this is no Story of a Bad Boy, no What Katy Did. If strong ideas and action offend you, read not more. Find another companion to share your idle hours. For my part I intend to tell the truth as I lived it. (Preface.1)

    Charlotte contrasts her narrative (that is, the story she's telling about herself) with two other nineteenth-century texts about young adults, Thomas Bailey Aldrich's Story of a Bad Boy (1869) and Susan Coolidge's What Katy Did (1872). Aldrich's is a boy's adventure story, while Coolidge's is the tale of a girl/tomboy who must learn to be good. Charlotte claims that her journal is different from these stories because her writing is true, contains radical ideas, and defies expectations about what a girl's story can be, especially during that time.

    To complete this elegant picture, Captain Jaggery sat upon one of a pair of armchairs in the fine full dress, an open book on his knee. It was, in fact, the Bible. When I came in he rose to his feet and made an elegant bow. (5.8)

    The captain's main reading material on the ship is the Bible. But does Jaggery himself seem to follow Christian values in his treatment of the crew? Does Jaggery practice what he preaches, or is it all, as Charlotte's phrasing suggests, just an "elegant picture"?

    "Talk to them, Miss Doyle," he urged. "Show them a little softness. Read to them from your moral books. Preach the gospel if you have a mind. Listen to their tales. I promise, they will fill your pretty head with the most fantastical notions." (5.37)

    Charlotte's role on the ship, according to Captain Jaggery, is to act as a civilizing force. He thinks that her presence, along with reading from moral books, will improve the men. This notion was common in nineteenth-century society, but is it true aboard the Seahawk?

    I resolved more. I determined to keep to my quarters and then and there spent two hours composing an essay in my blank book on the subject of proper behavior for young women. (8.27)

    Charlotte is so freaked out by trying on boys' clothes that she attempts to correct herself by writing a moral essay. What is the difference between writing a moral essay and recording her adventures?

    While he labored I read to him from on of my favorite books, Blind Barbara Ann: A Tale of Loving Poverty. He was listening intently when his needle snapped in two. (9.5)

    The book Charlotte mentions doesn't actually exist, though it's a clever reference to the didactic fiction (meaning, fiction that's written to teach something) that was given to women to read during the nineteenth century. From the title we can guess that Barbara Ann is blind, poor, and an object of both our pity and admiration. She is also presumably a paragon of female virtue. How does Charlotte's narrative (the story she is telling about herself) challenge Barbara's? Also, why does Ewing snap his needle in two?

    Suddenly I sat up. But Zachariah had died! I had seen him beaten to death, committed to the sea. Was it his ghost then who had saved me? I remembered thinking of an angel. Had I hallucinated the moment? Made a story of it myself? It was like the kind of forecastle yarn I'd heard the sailor tell so often. I had not believed them. Not then. And yet – what was I to think other than that a miracle had transpired? (16.3)

    The men's tales have stuck in Charlotte's mind and almost convince her that she has indeed seen a ghost. Oh, the power of a good story! Can we compare Charlotte's disbelief of the crew's stories to Mr. Doyle's reaction to his daughter's journal? Is a ghost appearing in the rigging as fantastic as a girl working as a member of the crew?

    "Come now, gentlemen!" the captain barked. "This is a court of law. All of you are required to speak the truth. You swore upon the Bible to do so. I'll ask again, did any of you see this girl with this knife?" (18.80)

    In Jaggery's courtroom, the Bible becomes not so much a moral guide as a means of intimidation. The captain uses the Bible to bully the men during the trial.

    Regarding Captain Jaggery, the log read simply. At the crew's urging I wrote that our noble captain had kept his post at the wheel during the hurricane, only to be swept away in the storm's final hour. Mr. Hollybrass was afforded the same heroic death. I have been skeptical of accounts of deceased heroes ever since. (22.2)

    Once Charlotte becomes the keeper of the Seahawk's log, she learns that history is very much open to interpretation. Just because something is written down, doesn't make it true.

    Though Fisk and Barlow insisted I move into the captain's quarters, I continued to work watch and watch as before. In between I wrote furiously in my journal, wishing to set down everything. It was as if only be reliving the events in my own words could I believe what had happened. (22.3)

    As she writes down what has happened, Charlotte is able to reflect on her journey. By telling her story in her own words, her adventures become believable. How is Charlotte's writing of the journal different from her father's experience of reading it?

    I glanced toward the fireplace and was startled to see a blaze there. It took me another moment to realize that my journal was being consumed by flames.

    I made a move toward it.

    "Stop!" my father cried. "Let it burn."

    "But..."

    "To ash!" (22.150-22.153)

    Charlotte's father confiscates her journal and destroys it. (Weird. We thought only fascist dictators burned books.) Mr. Doyle is censoring his daughter's writing and by doing so, he is telling her who she can and cannot be. The burning is a rejection – and a very violent one – of who Charlotte has become. If her father believed the book was only fiction, then why would he insist on burning it? Is it the spelling he finds so unsettling? Or the ideas?