Places Discussed

(Critical Guide to Settings and Places in Literature)

Sea

Sea. The open seas provide the primary setting for the novel. After the protagonist, U.S. Army lieutenant Philip Nolan is convicted of treason in 1807, he is sentenced never to hear the name of his country again. To carry out this unusual sentence, he is put aboard a series of naval vessels that keep him perpetually away from the United States, and the naval officers with whom he comes into contact are instructed never to utter “United States” in his presence or allow him to come into contact with any printed material containing those words. Witnesses say that “he must have been in every sea, and yet almost never on land.” Among the distant places to which the ships take him are the Cape of Good Hope, the Indian Ocean, the Windward Islands, the Mediterranean Sea, the South Atlantic, and Argentina. After Nolan dies, the sea becomes his burial place, his final home, and his only country.

Navy ships

Navy ships. Through the fifty-five years remaining in Nolan’s life, he is moved through a succession of twenty-one U.S. naval ships that serve as his floating prisons. Whenever he is aboard a homeward-bound vessel that nears any American coast, he is transferred to an outward-bound vessel. Eventually, he spends time on half of the U.S. Navy’s finest ships, including the Nautilus, the Intrepid, the Warren, the George Washington, and the Levant, on which he dies....

(The entire section is 492 words.)