Wealthy and sheltered, Willie Keith graduates from Princeton. To avoid Army service, he enters the Navy Reserve Officers’ Training Program shortly after Japan’s attack on Pearl Harbor. A spoiled adolescent, his distinctions are limited to amusing friends by playing piano and inventing clever ditties. Straying from his social reservation, he also begins an infatuation with May Wynn (born Marie Minotti), a hardworking nightclub singer and the daughter of immigrants. In the first of The Caine Mutiny’s six parts, Keith passes into the bizarre world of the Navy, war, and authority. During the next three years, the once callow Ensign Keith acquires the skills of his trade, learns self-reliance, acquiesces to cabals against his superior, becomes a party to a mutiny, and ultimately captains the final voyage of the U.S.S. Caine.
At the outset, however, Keith has difficulty comprehending that there is “a right way, a wrong way, and the Navy way.” Loaded with demerits for his blunders, unclear about the meaning of service or sacrifice, and close to expulsion, he survives his midshipman’s training at Columbia University only by mustering a surprising amount of inner determination. Expecting a soft billet thereafter, he is dismayed by his assignment to the Caine, a lowly, World War I-era destroyer that was converted to a minesweeper.
Keith’s first tour aboard the battle-scarred Caine is a study in mixed signals. Boarding ship as it is being refitted in San Francisco Bay, he meets the aspiring novelist-intellectual Tom Keefer, a communications officer and Keith’s superior officer. Keefer immediately defines himself as a sneering, acerbic critic of the Navy. Keith also meets Steve Maryk, soon to be the ship’s executive officer, who admires Captain De Vreiss. Having just adopted respect for Navy regulations, Keith, however, is appalled by De Vreiss’s lax discipline and slovenly shipkeeping, despite Maryk’s stress on De Vreiss’s superb seamanship and the respect he enjoys among the weary crew. Keith’s estimate of De Vreiss drops lower when Keith’s failure to deliver an important message to De Vreiss leads him to reprimand Keith....
(The entire section is 900 words.)