Captains Courageous Analysis

Places Discussed (Critical Guide to Settings and Places in Literature)

Grand Banks

Grand Banks. North Atlantic Ocean region off the coast of Newfoundland that is the novel’s primary setting. Once the richest fishing area in the world, the 150,000-square-mile region mixes the frigid waters of the Labrador Current from the north with the warm waters of the Gulf Stream from the south. The mixture fosters a heavy plankton growth that makes it an ideal habitat for the fish such as cod, haddock, herring, and mackerel that Kipling’s schooner catches. At the time Kipling wrote, thousands of schooners from New England and Canadian ports annually converged on the Grand Banks, creating what Harvey calls in the novel a city on the sea. The southern part of the Grand Banks straddled the late nineteenth century shipping lane between Europe and North America, making plausible the premise of the novel’s plot. Indeed, collisions and close calls among ocean liners and fishing schooners were a common occurrence.

We’re Here

We’re Here. Gloucester, Massachusetts, fishing schooner that rescues Harvey and transforms him into a seaman. Much of the novel’s action occurs within the cramped quarters of the boat. Built for both speed and cargo-carrying capacity, the We’re Here leaves little space for its crew’s living quarters. When Harvey first boards the boat, its hold is almost empty. Three months later, when it returns to Gloucester, it may hold as much as 150 tons of salted fish. The schooner’s deck is equally crowded with fishing dories, tackle, and other paraphernalia. Harvey’s world is thus suddenly transformed from spacious luxury to a few square feet of living space in which privacy is nonexistent. Although the boat’s captain maintains a well-disciplined and clean boat, the contrast between the boat and the fastidious upper-class milieu from which Harvey comes is wrenching to him.

Captains Courageous Bibliography (Great Characters in Literature)

Gross, John, ed. Rudyard Kipling: The Man, His Work, and His World. London: Weidenfeld & Nicolson, 1972. Presents interesting background on Captains Courageous based on earlier materials and sketches that Kipling developed in the book. Argues that different sections of the novel fail to mesh.

Kipling, Rudyard. Something of Myself: For My Friends Known and Unknown. 3d ed. New York: Doubleday, Doran, 1937. Fascinating autobiography that provides insight into Kip-ling’s detailed preparations for writing, which included his having boarded ships, prepared fish, and analyzed fishing charts and railway timetables.

Mason, Philip. Kipling: The Glass, the Shadow, and the Fire. New York: Harper & Row, 1975. Studies Kipling’s development as a man and an artist. Argues that the plot and characters are weak but praises the atmospheric portrayal of the fisherman’s world on the ship, where hard physical work is in conflict with the natural power of the seas.

Moss, Robert. Rudyard Kipling and the Fiction of Adolescence. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1982. Good introduction discussing thematic contrast between the crew of We’re Here, whose codes of behavior and values are based on years of tradition, and the self-centered world of Harvey and the new industrial age represented by his father. Concludes that Kipling admires values in both but finds the former more sympathetic.

Shahane, Vasant. Rudyard Kipling: Activist and Artist. Carbondale: Southern Illinois University Press, 1973. Excellent introductory study. Argues that the novel breaks traditional form and excels in observation and descriptive detail, which sweep the reader into the world of the sea, a microcosm of the larger world. Also analyzes Kipling’s treatment of character, theme, and setting.