Herman Melville's White-Jacket

analytical Essay
2160 words
2160 words

An ocean’s worth of water is stronger than any iron bars. In Herman Melville’s White-Jacket: or The World in a Man-of-War, the themes of isolation, captivity, and imprisonment are heavily featured throughout the novel. Upon the novel’s release the majority of the readership’s attention was focused on the intense scenes of flogging, ultimately leading to the abolition of the act aboard United States Naval vessels. However, Melville’s depiction of flogging was only one aspect of military life that was being critiqued. Throughout the novel White-Jacket Herman Melville continuously and unfavorably compares life aboard a man-of-war to life in prison, highlighting the intense power disparity between the officers and the crew, the attempts at conditioning …show more content…

In this essay, the author

  • Analyzes the themes of isolation, captivity, and imprisonment in herman melville's white-jacket: or the world in a man-of-war.
  • Analyzes shakings' comparison between a prison and the ship. he recalls his time in "the new york state's prison at sing sung" (174) and states that the man-of-war world is "a sort of state prison
  • Narrates how the man felt out of sorts and incensed at matters and things in general. he was relieved from all anxieties about what he should eat and drink, and supported like the president of the united states and prince albert.
  • Analyzes how shakings prefers prison to man-of-war. the ship is claustrophobic, but it doesn't serve as a suitable replacement for him.
  • Analyzes how the sailors complain about inability to sleep or live due to the constant threat of duty floating over their heads. privacy is an inescapable necessity for any and all intelligent beings.
  • Analyzes how white-jacket describes the lack of agency that surrounds sailors on the ship. melville's definition of a prisoner is clearly invoking the image of prisoners being
  • Analyzes how melville became subject to an autocratic ideology that did everything it could to erase his previous identity by systematically intimidating him and imposing on him a much-diminished sense of himself
  • Analyzes how sten states that melville "stepped onto" his ship, while his sailors were "cast into" theirs. the "autocratic ideology" existed to erase his previous identity, a motif that exists throughout white-jacket.
  • Analyzes joyce sparer adler's argument that the white jacket is a prison for white-jacket. the narrator accidentally throws his jacket over his head and falls into the sea.
  • Opines that any analysis of a man-of-war as prison would be flawed without mentioning the fact that these ships did in fact have prison aboard them, known as the brig.
  • Narrates how the four prisoners were charged with violating a well-known law of the ship—having been engaged in one of those tangled, general fights occurring among sailors.
  • Analyzes how melville uses his irony to illustrate the disparity between the officers of the ship and the crew.
  • Analyzes how the similarities between a man-of-war and prison exist on physical, metaphorical, and even an emotional level. the claustrophobic space of the ship, coupled with the intense disparity between the officers and the crew, contribute to the tearing down of individuality.

She states, “the jacket—in its most important qualities and effects—symbolizes the ‘uniform’ in which all common sailors are imprisoned,” (30). She then notes that in chapter ninety-two, “The Last of the Jacket,” the narrator accidentally throws his jacket over his head and falls into the sea. She claims, “He cannot swim, however, because he is “pinioned” by the jacket (as a bird is pinioned to restrict its flight)” (35). This notion that the jacket is keeping White-Jacket from swimming clearly puts him and the jacket against one another, heightened by the fact that his jacket covering his face and mouth while he is in the water could literally kill him. This image of a white jacket keeping someone “pinioned” also conjures up the idea of a straightjacket, which is reserved for prisoners who are harmful to themselves or others. Adler seems to be pointing to the idea that those who have agreed to work aboard a man-of-war share a similar mental profile to those people who occupy straightjackets in prisons. Adler also states about the white jacket, “It creates a microcosm of the Neversink world, concentrating in one intensely visual scene the threefold choice that the book as a whole presents: life or death; acquiescence of dissent; the values of war or of peace,” (48). This duality that Adler highlights is unique in …show more content…

It is interesting to note that quotation marks are put around the word “brig” but not the word “prisoners” in this passage. Through this difference, there seems to be a disconnect between how seriously each label is viewed by the narrator. The notion of the “brig” seems to be questioned, but undoubtedly the four men are prisoners, the same aboard the ship as they would be in Sing-Sing. This distinction showcases that while the actual institutions and processes of naval punishment may be suspect, the desired outcome rings true. The next image is the “sentry standing over them,” which quickly illustrates a power dynamic. By positioning an authority figure, in this instance the sentry, over the prisoners, the prisoners become less. This lessening not only results in the prisoners feeling subservient, but it also allows the authority to feel superior by comparison. This power of those in charge of the ship comes from the punishment of the average man, resulting in a disparity between the officers of the ship and the crew. This disparity is exploited; it is used to create an aura of unquestioning loyalty surrounding the authority of the ship. The passage continues by noting that the men have violated “a well-known law of the ship,” which would seem to make it unfortunate that the men have broken it, as they should know better. However, the law turns out to be a “general” fight that “sometimes” occurs

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