Java Head is a historical novel, set in the 1840’s, about Salem, Massachusetts, shipowners who had grown wealthy from trade with the Far East, especially China. The novel consists of ten chapters, reflecting the viewpoints of nine different characters. As a result of these changing perspectives, Java Head is a complex novel based on a fairly simple plotline.
At the beginning of Java Head, the primary concern of the wealthy Ammidon family is that Gerrit Ammidon’s ship, the Nautilus, is months overdue. There are, however, tensions within the family—some of them trivial, like the squabbling between Laurel and her prissy sister Camilla; others more serious, like the frequent confrontations between the elderly Jeremy Ammidon, who spent most of his life at sea, and his son William Ammidon, whose only experience is in the countinghouse of the family firm. William’s wife Rhoda rebukes her husband for arguing with Jeremy about replacing their ships with the speedier clippers and about the profits to be derived from the opium trade. Either suggestion sends Jeremy into such a fury that Rhoda fears for his health. However, she sees no harm in the flirtation between her oldest daughter, Sidsall, and a middle-aged family friend, Roger Brevard.
The Ammidons are also troubled about the bad feeling between their family and that of another former ship captain, Barzil Dunsack. Jeremy has had nothing to do with his old friend since Dunsack refused to let Gerrit continue seeing Nettie Vollar, Barzil’s illegitimate granddaughter. Hearing that Barzil is ill, Jeremy pays him a visit...
(The entire section is 666 words.)