USS Caine. U.S. Navy destroyer-minesweeper on which Willis Keith serves and grows from a spoiled and dependent youth to a battle-tested man. The Caine is not an impressive ship, a small and rusty vessel that dates from World War I and is acknowledged by its first captain, de Vriess, to be outdated. However, in its very mediocrity it has a power to reveal the best and worst in each of the characters. From the moment Keith comes aboard, he and the other characters are shown through how they handle the various crises they encounter, culminating in the disastrous typhoon. Captain Queeg proves unequal to the task of command time and time again, and finally comes apart entirely when confronted with nature’s wrath. Keith grows into his role as a naval officer and ultimately shows heroism in the face of a Japanese kamikaze attack, saving the ship while Tom Keefer, the instigator of the mutiny against Queeg, panics and flees.
With expertise drawn from his own war experience aboard naval destroyer-minesweepers, Wouk uses the multitude of small details of the Caine, its various compartments and equipment, to paint a picture of life aboard a steam-powered naval vessel as vivid as the stories of Napoleonic sailing warships created by Patrick O’Brien and C. S. Forester. The Caine in essence becomes another character of the novel, complete with its own foibles and peculiarities with which the human characters must deal. Its name, which evokes the biblical figure of Cain and the mark placed upon him by God for slaying...
(The entire section is 647 words.)