White-Jacket: or, The World in a Man-of-War, by Herman Melville


The great American seafaring author Herman Melville wrote White-Jacket during a particularly prolific writing period in 1849. He drew upon his own recollections of naval life, having spent over a year as a crewman aboard the frigate United States, sailing the Pacific and rounding Cape Horn. In this novel, a sailor known as “White-Jacket” (his nickname is derived from his makeshift, raggedy coat), finds himself on a particularly peril-fraught voyage on the man-of-war Neversink. One mishap follows another: a man goes overboard, White-Jacket falls from the rigging, and meanwhile even the most minor insubordination is punished with the lash. Melville’s story portrays the inhumanity of 19th-century naval life, saving special vitriol for the unnamed ship’s surgeon, who has the power to stop a flogging if a man’s life is endagered – but never does; and for the inept Dr. Cuticle, who amputates a sailor’s healthy leg just to make a point. It is said that the description of such excesses was instrumental in convincing the United States Navy to outlaw flogging. Many scandalized Northern readers acknowledged that the treatment of sailors was little different from that given to slaves in the South. White-Jacket received almonst universal acclaim upon its initial publication. Part autobiography, part epic fiction, it remains an imaginative novel by one of the great writers of the sea.


ISBN: 0810118289

Format: Paperback, 400 pages

Pub. Date: November 2000

Publisher: Northwestern University Press

Price: $16.95

Other Formats: Hardcover, E-book