Characters Discussed (Cyclopedia of Literary Characters, Revised Third Edition)
Lieutenant Commander Philip Francis Queeg
Lieutenant Commander Philip Francis Queeg, the captain of the USS Caine. A neurotic officer of mediocre ability, he is not typical of his fellow Naval Academy graduates. He comes to the Caine from a somewhat murky background and seems determined, at least initially, to correct whatever happened in the past to make him a below-average officer. Within a few weeks, however, he shows himself to be an incompetent martinet incapable of seeing the big picture. As a result, he evokes in his officers and men reactions ranging from pity to rage and, finally, sincere concern for the safety of the ship. This concern leads to him being relieved during a typhoon and to subsequent disgrace.
Lieutenant Stephen Maryk
Lieutenant Stephen Maryk, an executive officer of the USS Caine during the mutiny. A naval reservist, he is an officer of excellent potential, typical of the young men brought into service early in World War II. Solid and dependable, Maryk is torn between the requirement of loyalty to a skipper, even one who seems mentally ill, and what he perceives is best for the ship. When his sea sense tells him that theCaine is doomed during a terrible storm, he relieves Captain Queeg of command and saves the ship. Indicted for mutiny, he is acquitted in a dramatic trial but, as is sometimes the way in the service, his career is ruined.
(The entire section is 557 words.)
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Occasionally, a novelist is able to introduce a character that becomes a part of his country's "folklore"; Wouk has done so with Lieutenant Commander Philip Queeg. Millions of Americans who have never read The Caine Mutiny know of the tyrannical, paranoid skipper of the Caine, rolling a pair of steel ball bearings between his fingers as he becomes more nervous and frightened of the responsibility thrust upon him by the nature of his command. Queeg, the only career Navy man on the Caine, sees himself as a man alone against a hostile universe: His ship is aging, his officers and crew plot against him, those higher up the bureaucratic chain have no sympathy for his problems.
The Caine Mutiny's other major characters all serve in some way as foils for Queeg. Executive Officer Steve Maryk and Gunnery Officer Tom Keefer, both reservists called to duty because of the war, struggle to make sense of Queeg's erratic behavior; Maryk finally finds himself forced to relieve the captain to save the ship. The only character who shows significant development in the novel, however, is Willie Keith. He joins the Caine as a raw ensign from a rich family in which everything was given to him, growing in experience during the course of the ship's adventures and eventually coming to some understanding of the nature of global warfare and of the men of vastly different backgrounds forced to join together as a fighting force. Like the wedding...
(The entire section is 284 words.)
A native San Franciscan, Steve Maryk is a fisherman by trade and upbringing. As he tells Keefer, fishing is not bucolic: "It boils down to making a dollar the hardest way there is.… It's a business for dumb foreigners.… I'm dumb too, but I'm not a foreigner." Maryk, therefore, has both the incentives of a second-generation immigrant: to make it rich in America and to be patriotic. While not as educated as Keefer or Keith, Maryk is not dumb; as a result of his seaman's knowledge, Maryk is immediately recognized by his fellow crewmembers—as well as Captain De Vriess—as the best sailor among them. Consequently, he is relied upon to fulfill his natural leadership role. It is due to Maryk's expertise that the crew is able to set drill-time records that no other minesweeper can approach. Maryk tells Keefer, "I know seamanship, and I'd damn rather put in twenty years for the Navy and get a pension than get arthritis and a sprung back hauling fish out of the water."
After Gorton is transferred, Maryk becomes the USS Caine's executive officer. Having decided that Queeg is not an able skipper, Maryk loses faith in him. At first, Maryk is not mutinous and keeps his distance from the crew when they disparage the Captain. Gradually, he is influenced by Keefer's psychological theories. He begins to keep a log-book on the captain's behavior. In the midst of a typhoon, he decides that the captain has lost his ability to command and...
(The entire section is 1668 words.)