Melville’s “White Pea Jacket” in brief

Melville’s “White Pea Jacket” in brief

In 1843, in one of the harbors of the Pacific Ocean, a young sailor – it is easy to recognize the hero of the novel “Taipi” continuing his journey home – enters the American frigate Neversink. Since there is not a single extra sailor’s jacket on the ship after many years of sailing, he has to make his own likeness from a linen shirt and all sorts of rags, and for the light color of improvised clothes he gets the nickname White Pea Jacket. Throughout the voyage, the jacket causes him various troubles, as it separates it from the mass of dressed in dark sailors.

The frigate is already returning to America, he will have to circle Cape Horn and pass the Atlantic Ocean, but this last part of the voyage takes more than a year. The White Pea Jacket has enough time to study in detail the life of the warship and its crew, peculiar relations among the five hundred people crowded on a very limited ship space, where everything is done in sight, even a momentary loneliness is unavailable, and the only place a sailor can consider his – a pendant bunk, stretched only at night hours close to the other on one of the lower decks.

The white pea jacket has been enlisted by the Mars sailor. The Mars, whose watch passes at the very tops of the masts, high above the deck is a kind of sailor aristocracy. The eldest is Jack Chase, a seasoned sailor, an extraordinary man, an educated poet, and one of the few on Neversink who participated in real sea

battles. The sailors love chase, they are admired by officers and even in the tone of the commander, when he turns to him, a note of respect is felt. The sergeant favors the White Pea jacket and more than once comes to his aid in embarrassing situations. The almost unbelievable story that the White Jacket learns reveals a very special attitude towards Jack Chase on the frigate: when the sergeant deserted from the ship to take part in the Peruvian civil war on the side he considered right, and then,

The more surprising is the fact that any sailor on Neversink lives in constant expectation of certain punishments, many of which are corporal. The sailing of an American warship, like the swimming of an ancient galley, passes under the whistling of lashes. And if the big whips – cats – are still shameless, in the presence of the whole team, and only the commander of the ship has the right to appoint such a flogging, then the line – a piece of cable with a knot at the end – can be commissioned by any officer right on the spot where the sailor is seen, even if not in misconduct, but at least in ordinary negligence. For more serious crimes – such as desertion or the manifestation of cowardice in a combat situation – special, stage-by-stage executions, such as sweeping through the squadron’s structure, rely on when the guilty one is transported from the ship to the ship, and on each he receives before the system a new portion of the weaves. And in accordance with the maritime regulations, once a month the team reads excerpts from the Code of wartime laws, operating in the Navy and in the absence of direct war; out of twenty crimes that are subject to military tribunal, thirteen is punishable by death, and it’s not just about riots or an attempt on the commander – in the loop will be a sailor, just asleep on the watch. The White Jacket understands that it is not so easy to keep in obedience the motley crew of the ship, for some members of which the decisive argument in favor of entering the frigate is the grog of the grog daily given out on the ship. But still the excessive cruelty of naval laws and regulations seems to him in most cases unjustified, and the severity of punishments does not correspond to perfect misconduct.

In addition, and the officers for the most part do not deserve the respect to whose obsequious manifestation at any rate obliges the sailors regulations. Drunkenness, inability to make decisions, ignorance of the naval affair distinguish many officers on the “Neversinke”. But even the most worthless of them is capable, without hesitation, indulging only his own arrogance, to insult an elderly deserved sailor who is categorically forbidden by the naval law to protest against the insult. From the same arrogance the commander of the ship is able to keep the crew on the deck all night without sleep, during a senseless contest in speed with the English or French frigates. The arrogance and ignorance of the flagship surgeon, who did not want to listen to the opinion of other ship’s doctors, lead to the death of a wounded sailor. Many senseless, but the allegedly traditional institutions, which are carefully monitored by officers, are turned into an execution and everyday life on Neversink: it is not necessary to stretch out bunks in the daytime – and there is nowhere left for the sailors who have been replaced by heavy night watches; patients from the infirmary located on the lower decks are forbidden to go out into the air – and they are forced to suffer from stuffiness and heat. Yes, and many ceremonies between sailors and officers, as well as between officers senior and junior are useless and even harmful. The White Pea comes to the conclusion that the cruelty of the commanders, contempt for the sailors, excessive strictness of the routines are only able to persuade the team to change at the moment of the battle and move to the side of the enemy. For if to the officer the war promises rapid growth in ranks, and subsequently – honor and prosperity, then the sailor does not bring even an increase to the salary – nothing, except for mortal danger. And since many of the sailors are not even American citizens, only genuine respect for their commanders and a sense of duty that is not undermined by constant humiliation can make them honestly fight. No wonder the best in the history of naval commanders could do without corporal punishment.

To himself White Pea Jacket firmly decides that in no case will he expose himself to spanking. And he tries to fulfill his duties as well as possible. But one day, during a sailing alarm, takes the wrong place, because the officer did not tell him in time what exactly he should do. And although the White Pea jackpot tries to justify himself, explaining the situation, he is not believed and the punishment is given by cats. He is already preparing to rush to the commander and fall with him together overboard, preferring death to loss of dignity. But Jack Chase and the Marine Corporal Corporal stand in his defense, and the captain for the first time! – Cancels the execution.

In anticipation of the return of many sailors lovingly grow a special style of “sea” beards, whiskers and long curls. The commander’s order to shave everything off and cut it off, as the Sea Charter prescribes, almost leads to sedition. However, the best officer, a born sailor nicknamed Shaly Jack, manages to calm the sailors and persuade them to obey. Only the old sailor Ashant does not agree to part with his beard. The captain sends him under the whip and in the cooler for the rest of the voyage – but the spirit of the old man is stable, and when at last the roar of the anchor chain is heard, Ashantha screams victoriously, jumping on the upper deck: “At home – and with a beard!”

On the last mile of the road home a homemade jacket almost becomes a shroud to its master. Entangled in her floors, White Pea Jacket breaks into the ocean, and, heavy with water, the jacket pulls him to the bottom, but he manages to free himself, cutting it with a knife. From the side of the frigate a white spot is taken for the shark – and a bunch of serrated harpoons, piercing the ill-fated pea jacket, quickly drags it into the depths.

The White Pea jacket will not return to the fleet any more. And most of the sailors swear by parting that their feet will never set foot on the deck of a warship. But it will be two or three days, and many of them, having lowered their long-term salary in the port to their pence, will again find themselves in floating barracks, in order to subject themselves to humiliation and stick discipline for years to come.


Melville’s “White Pea Jacket” in brief