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...
(The entire section is 635 words.)