Missing The Caine Mutiny would be a crime

Sixty years on, ‘s 1951 novel The Caine Mutiny remains a testament to the complexity and perversity of human nature.

Pleasant, bright but not brilliant, Willie Keith’s goal in life is to get away from his mother. When his draft number comes up, he joins the Navy.

Assigned to a Pacific minesweeper, Willie quakes, expecting a life where his life hangs by a thread every minute.

Reality is very different.

A floating rust bucket, the Caine ferrys supplies and hauls targets. Her scuzzy crew does their jobs offhandedly, ignoring Navy regulations. Willie is appalled.

Then Captain Queeg takes over the ship. He’s a by-the-book man. Willie initially applauds his attempts to enforce standards . Gradually, however, Queeg is revealed as a petty tyrant, a lousy seaman, and quite probably a coward.

Inevitably, Tom Keefer, an officer whose spare time is devoted to writing a novel, suggests that Queeg may be mentally unfit for duty. The “mutiny” grows from that seed.

As Willie realizes that Queeg’s judgment cannot entirely be trusted, readers realize that Willie’s judgment can’t always be trusted either. In all honesty, we have to see that, like Willie, we sometimes dislike people with too-little reason, and we like people whose behavior we should consider despicable.

The Caine Mutiny: A Novel of World War II
by Herman Wouk
International Collectors Library, 1951
498 pages
#2 on the bestseller list in 1951 and 1952
My grade: A
 

© 2011 Linda Gorton Aragoni

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Linda G. Aragoni

I make big ideas simple for learners. In eight sentences, 34 words, I taught teens and adults to write competently. Now I'm writing guides to turn willing volunteers into great nursing home visitors.

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