Places Discussed

(Critical Guide to Settings and Places in Literature)


Yorikke. Aged cargo ship on which the young American sailor without documentation, Gerry Gales, signs on as a crew member in Amsterdam. This ship represents the darker side of the world’s seagoing commerce: slavery, piracy, gun-running, and contraband. Its current voyage appears to be headed toward its deliberate destruction for insurance purposes, and conditions for its crew are appalling. The name “Yorikke” echoes the figure Yorick in William Shakespeare’s play Hamlet (1600), whose skull in the graveyard fuels Prince Hamlet’s speculations on the nature and meaninglessness of existence. Traven’s ship resembles poor Yorick’s skull in being abandoned in the grave of the world. Moreover, just as there is something rotten in the state of Denmark in Shakespeare’s play, so is there something rotten within the Yorikke—a microcosm of the universe.

As an archetype, the Yorikke calls to mind the Pequod in Herman Melville’s Moby Dick (1851), Dante’s Inferno in The Divine Comedy (1320), and any of the myriad underworlds in literature that represent the unconscious mind and darker side of human experience. The ship is a symbolic womb of death and potential transformation; an inscription over the crew’s quarters states, “He who enters here will no longer have existence.” To make matters worse for Gerry, he is assigned to the most appalling job on the death ship: that of fireman. His days and nights cycle through misery and an odd sense of...

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The Death Ship Bibliography

(Great Characters in Literature)

Baumann, Michael L. B. Traven: An Introduction. Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press, 1976. Discusses Traven as a proletarian writer, focusing on his attitudes toward nationalism and capitalism. Compares language and subject matter in the 1926 German version of The Death Ship with the 1934 English one.

Chankin, Donald O. Anonymity and Death: The Fiction of B. Traven. University Park: Pennsylvania State University Press, 1975. Clear, insightful psychoanalytic analysis of character and theme in The Death Ship. Provides historical and geopolitical background. Discusses literary parallels in the works of Joseph Conrad, Herman Melville, and others.

Mezo, Richard E. A Study of B. Traven’s Fiction: The Journey to Solipaz. San Francisco: Mellon Research University Press, 1993. A comprehensive critical analysis of theme, character, style and structure in Traven’s fiction. Discusses the development of Gales’s persona in The Death Ship and later works. Extensive bibliography. A very good introduction to Traven and his fiction.

Raskin, Jonah. My Search for B. Traven. New York: Methuen, 1980. An interesting account of the many mysteries surrounding B. Traven’s multiple identities. Compares manuscript, typescript, and various print editions of The Death Ship, tracing the development of Gales, the introduction of Stanislaw, the growing symbolic importance of the ship.

Stone, Judy. The Mystery of B. Traven. Los Altos, Calif.: William Kaufmann, 1977. Includes excerpts from the only extended series of interviews with B. Traven, including a discussion of the theme of The Death Ship and revealing his complex social philosophy. An important source for analyzing Traven’s fiction.