Analysis

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Last Reviewed on June 19, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 346

Captain Courageous, Kipling's only American novel, is about the way in which its protagonist, a 15-year-old indulged boy named Harvey Cheyne, turns into what the author considers a real American boy: one who is hardworking, humble, and tolerant. Harvey is emblematic of what Kipling saw as the true American character.

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It is significant that at the beginning of the book, Harvey is on a steamer bound for Europe. His direction on the sea is symbolic, as is his near drowning and his rescue at the hands of a Grand Banks fisherman named Disko Troop and his Portuguese crew member, Manuel. Harvey has become effete and spoiled (and far too influenced by European tendencies) in the hands of his rich and indulgent parents, but hard work on board the schooner We're Here strips Harvey of his arrogance and laziness.

Disko and Manuel serve as kind of replacement fathers for Harvey as he learns the ways of the sea. In one telling passage, Harvey says the following:

"'I'm, I'm ever so grateful,' Harvey stammered, and his unfortunate hand stole to his pocket once more, but he remembered that he had no money to offer. When he knew Manuel better the mere thought of the mistake he might have made would cover him with hot, uneasy blushes in his bunk."

Harvey tries to pay Manuel for saving him. Harvey at first relies on his money to make connections to others and to keep them subordinate to him. Over time, however, and with the guidance of his new father figures and his new brother figure, Dan (the captain's son), he learns how to work hard and how to relate to others, even if they are not his social equals, with respect. In this sense, he begins to relate to others with a sense of American democracy. The sea is a leveling force in this novel, and the novel is the story of an American boy's maturation into a diligent, hardworking, and tolerant character through his experiences on the sea. These are the qualities that Kipling saw as quintessentially American.

Places Discussed

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Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 304

Grand Banks

Grand Banks. North Atlantic Ocean region off the coast of Newfoundland that is the novel’s primary setting. Once the richest fishing area in the world, the 150,000-square-mile region mixes the frigid waters of the Labrador Current from the north with the warm waters of the Gulf Stream from the south. The mixture fosters a heavy plankton growth that makes it an ideal habitat for the fish such as cod, haddock, herring, and mackerel that Kipling’s schooner catches. At the time Kipling wrote, thousands of schooners from New England and Canadian ports annually converged on the Grand Banks, creating what Harvey calls in the novel a city on the sea. The southern part of the Grand Banks straddled the late nineteenth century shipping lane between Europe and North America, making plausible the premise of the novel’s plot. Indeed, collisions and close calls among ocean liners and fishing schooners were a common occurrence.

We’re Here

We’re Here. Gloucester, Massachusetts, fishing schooner that rescues Harvey and transforms him into a seaman. Much of the novel’s action occurs within the cramped quarters of the boat. Built for both speed and cargo-carrying capacity, the We’re Here leaves little space for its crew’s living quarters. When Harvey first boards the boat, its hold is almost empty. Three months later, when it returns to Gloucester, it may hold as much as 150 tons of salted fish. The schooner’s deck is equally crowded with fishing dories, tackle, and other paraphernalia. Harvey’s world is thus suddenly transformed from spacious luxury to a few square feet of living space in which privacy is nonexistent. Although the boat’s captain...

(The entire section contains 920 words.)

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