Study Guide

The True Confessions of Charlotte Doyle Rules and Order

By Avi

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?