Summary (Masterplots, Fourth Edition)
Wellingborough Redburn’s father dies, leaving his wife and children poorly provided for, although he had been a highly successful merchant and at one time a wealthy man. The young Redburn is in his middle teens, and he decides to take some of the burden off his mother by going to sea. Given an old gun and a hunting jacket by an older brother, Redburn leaves his home by the Hudson River and goes to New York to seek a berth on a ship.
A college friend of his older brother aids Redburn in finding a berth on a ship bound for Liverpool, England. Unfortunately, the friend had emphasized to the ship’s crew that Redburn comes from a good family and has wealthy relatives; consequently, Captain Riga, master of the Highlander, is able to hire the young lad for only three dollars a month. Having spent all his money and unable to get an advance on his wages, Redburn has to pawn his gun for a shirt and cap to wear aboard ship.
During his first few days out of port, Redburn believes he has made a dreadful mistake in going to sea. Redburn’s fellow sailors jeer at him as a greenhorn. He makes many silly mistakes, becomes violently seasick, and discovers that he does not even have a spoon with which to take his portion of the food from the pots and pans. His coat proves inappropriate for life at sea; it shrinks after getting wet. His fellow crewmen find the odd coat amusing and give Redburn the nickname Buttons in derisive reference to the...
(The entire section is 1218 words.)
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