Captains Courageous

by Rudyard Kipling

Start Free Trial

Why did Harvey fall overboard?

Expert Answers

An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

Harvey falls overboard in chapter 1 of Captains Courageous. At the beginning of the story, Harvey certainly is not the most seafaring of sorts. We can see that he is feeling seasick and certainly does not know how to comport himself properly aboard the ship. Having bragged that he never gets seasick, Harvey goes walking around the decks pretending to have proper sea legs beneath him. It is likely this overconfidence and bravado that leads him to be careless on board. Smoking the German sailor's potent cigar also adds to Harvey's feelings of unsteadiness.

Weak from seasickness Harvey leans against the ship's rail. It is there that "a low, gray mother wave swung out of the fog, tucked Harvey under one arm, so to speak, and pulled him off and away to leeward."

Harvey is swept overboard without a struggle, without crying out for help, and even without much of a thought. In many ways, Kipling likens this accident to a baptism in which Harvey emerges from the water reborn.

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

Harvey Cheney, the protagonist of the story, is a fifteen-year-old boy travelling across the Atlantic by ocean liner. To put it crudely, he's a spoiled brat, an entitled rich kid sailing to Europe to see his mother, who spoils him something rotten. This element of Harvey's character is very important as we'll eventually see him mature and emotionally develop over the course of the book.

But before any of that happens, Harvey has to be swept overboard into the sea. The sea's not particularly rough or choppy, but it's tempestuous enough to land Harvey into the briny. Poor Harvey is quite literally out of his depth and seems destined to drown. Fortunately for him he's rescued by a Portuguese schooner called We're Here. Harvey's transatlantic cruise may have come to an abrupt end, but he's about to embark upon a considerably more perilous and arduous journey: that of growing up.

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team