Summary (Masterplots, Fourth Edition)
White-Jacket, as he is later nicknamed, is a common sailor, a member of the crew of the United States frigate Neversink on a cruise of the Pacific Ocean during the 1840’s. After the ship leaves Callao, Peru, the sailor tries to purchase a heavy jacket that he will need as protection when the Neversink passes into the colder climate off Cape Horn. Because a heavy jacket is not available from the ship’s purser, the vessel having been at sea for more than three years, the sailor has to make a canvas jacket for himself.
The jacket is full of pockets and quilted with odds and ends of rags and clothing for warmth. When the maker requests some paint to make it waterproof and to darken its color, he is told that no paint is available for the purpose.
As the ship moves southward toward the Antarctic, the sailor gradually comes to be called White-Jacket by the crew because of the strange garment he wears. Some of the sailors, superstitious as old wives, dislike him because of the jacket; they say that White-Jacket is too much like a ghost when he goes about his duties high in the rigging of the frigate.
The offensiveness of White-Jacket’s strange apparel is revealed only a few days after the ship reaches Callao. White-Jacket is forced to leave the mess group to which he was assigned, because the sailors tell him that anyone who wears such a weird garment is unwelcome. That White-Jacket proved himself a very poor cook...
(The entire section is 1056 words.)
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