White-Jacket, a common seaman aboard the United States frigate Neversink on a voyage from the Pacific around Cape Horn to the eastern seaboard. White-Jacket gets his name aboard the ship when he sews for himself a canvas jacket for protection against the cold of the Cape. He is a sensitive young man and is greatly disturbed by practices common aboard U.S. naval vessels of the nineteenth century; floggings, tyrannical officers, and issuance of liquor to crewmen all draw his fire. White-Jacket’s story ends when he falls overboard off the Virginia capes and throws off the canvas coat to be better able to swim for his life. White-Jacket’s account was instrumental in abolishing flogging as punishment in the U.S. Navy.
Jack Chase, a Britisher in United States service aboard the USS Neversink. He is the educated and civil petty officer under whom White-Jacket serves. His good work in getting privileges for the crew earns him the respect of the coarse seamen with whom he sails.
Captain Claret, a typical commander of naval vessels of the nineteenth century. He, along with his officers, feels that naval officers should drive men, not lead them. The captain is stern and usually fair but sometimes peevish and unpredictable. He never feels that common seamen deserve even a modicum of the respect ordinarily paid human beings.