A two-act play, Mister Roberts is set aboard a navy cargo ship on the Pacific Ocean during World War II. As the play begins, the setting reveals a typical cargo ship in the middle of the Pacific Ocean, shortly after dawn. The ship’s crew is sleeping; in fact, there is no sign of life, a condition the play explores. As the drama unfolds, each member of the crew struggles with, and overcomes, the figurative absence of life: the tediousness, dissatisfaction, and monotony of life aboard the ship. The central action of the play evolves from the interplay between Lieutenant Roberts and the tyrannical Captain to the interplay between Lieutenant Roberts and the crew, who try to find life in the midst of boredom.
Roberts is frustrated with his role as cargo officer, delivering toilet paper and toothpaste while other men are participating in combat. Disillusioned with his noncombat duty, Roberts writes letters to the Bureau of Naval Personnel requesting a transfer to a destroyer ship. As he says, “I’m sick and tired of being a lousy spectator. I just happen to believe in this thing. I’ve got to feel I’m good enough to be in it—to participate!” However, his incessant letters put him on a collision course with the eccentric Captain, who wants to use Lieutenant Roberts’s skills as a cargo officer to advance his own career. Jealous of Roberts’s relationship with the crew, his demeanor, and his educational background, the Captain takes...
(The entire section is 557 words.)