Study Guide

The True Confessions of Charlotte Doyle Race

By Avi

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?