White Jacket or The World in a Man of War

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Overview

Melville wrote White-Jacket; or, The World in a Man-of-War during a two-month period of intense work in the summer of 1849. He drew upon his memories of naval life, having spent fourteen months as an "ordinary seaman" aboard the frigate United States as it sailed the Pacific and made the homeward voyage around Cape Horn.

A crewman on the man-of-war Neversink, White-Jacket gets his name from the shirt he turned into a coat and lined with rags, old trouser legs, and cast-off ...

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White Jacket or The World in a Man of War

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Overview

Melville wrote White-Jacket; or, The World in a Man-of-War during a two-month period of intense work in the summer of 1849. He drew upon his memories of naval life, having spent fourteen months as an "ordinary seaman" aboard the frigate United States as it sailed the Pacific and made the homeward voyage around Cape Horn.

A crewman on the man-of-war Neversink, White-Jacket gets his name from the shirt he turned into a coat and lined with rags, old trouser legs, and cast-off socks. The journey he undertakes is dangerous—a man falls overboard, White-Jacket tumbles from the rigging, and the least insubordination is punished with the lash. Melville's story portrays the inhumanity of 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 endangered—but never does; and for the inept Dr. Cuticle, who amputates a sailor's healthy leg to make a point. 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 than that given to slaves in the South.

Melville regarded the writing of White-Jacket as a mere job, undertaken for much-needed cash, but the novel received almost universal acclaim. The English liked its praise of British seamen and its vivid descriptions of naval life. Americans were interested in Melville's attack on naval abuses and his advocacy of humanitarian causes. Part autobiography, part epic fiction, White-Jacket remains an imaginative social novel by one of the great writers of the sea.

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780765542540
  • Publisher: Quality Paperback
  • Publication date: 6/21/2000
  • Pages: 504

Meet the Author

Herman Melville (August 1, 1819 – September 28, 1891) was an American novelist, short story writer, essayist, and poet. He is best known for his novel Moby-Dick. His first three books gained much contemporary attention (the first, Typee, becoming a bestseller), and after a fast-blooming literary success in the late 1840s, his popularity declined precipitously in the mid-1850s and never recovered during his lifetime. When he died in 1891, he was almost completely forgotten. It was not until the "Melville Revival" in the early 20th century that his work won recognition, especially Moby-Dick, which was hailed as one of the literary masterpieces of both American and world literature. He was the first writer to have his works collected and published by the Library of America.

Biography

Herman Melville was born in August 1, 1819, in New York City, the son of a merchant. Only twelve when his father died bankrupt, young Herman tried work as a bank clerk, as a cabin-boy on a trip to Liverpool, and as an elementary schoolteacher, before shipping in January 1841 on the whaler Acushnet, bound for the Pacific. Deserting ship the following year in the Marquesas, he made his way to Tahiti and Honolulu, returning as ordinary seaman on the frigate United States to Boston, where he was discharged in October 1844. Books based on these adventures won him immediate success. By 1850 he was married, had acquired a farm near Pittsfield, Massachussetts (where he was the impetuous friend and neighbor of Nathaniel Hawthorne), and was hard at work on his masterpiece Moby-Dick.

Literary success soon faded; his complexity increasingly alienated readers. After a visit to the Holy Land in January 1857, he turned from writing prose fiction to poetry. In 1863, during the Civil War, he moved back to New York City, where from 1866-1885 he was a deputy inspector in the Custom House, and where, in 1891, he died. A draft of a final prose work, Billy Budd, Sailor, was left unfinished and uncollated, packed tidily away by his widow, where it remained until its rediscovery and publication in 1924.

Author biography courtesy of Penguin Group (USA).

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    1. Date of Birth:
      August 1, 1819
    2. Place of Birth:
      New York, New York
    1. Date of Death:
      September 28, 1891
    2. Place of Death:
      New York, New York
    1. Education:
      Attended the Albany Academy in Albany, New York, until age 15

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Sort by: Showing 1 – 2 of 1 Customer Reviews
  • Posted December 28, 2012

    more from this reviewer

    Read this before Moby Dick to understand what the sailor's life

    Read this before Moby Dick to understand what the sailor's life was like aboard ships of that era.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 1, 2010

    No text was provided for this review.

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