"The Ship That Found Herself" Characters

The main characters in “The Ship That Found Herself” include the skipper, the Steam, and the Dimbula.

  • The skipper is the Dimbula’s wise and experienced captain, who recognizes that the ship has yet to find itself at the outset of its journey.
  • The Steam is the force that powers the Dimbula and encourages its many separate parts to work together in harmony.
  • The Dimbula is a newly built cargo-carrying steamship that discovers its sense of self after braving its first Atlantic crossing.


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Last Updated on May 25, 2021, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1122

Miss Frazier

Miss Frazier is the daughter of the owner of the Scottish firm that has fitted and launched the Dimbula, a commercial sea vessel. Miss Frazier has come to see the Dimbula before its first voyage. She is shown to be very admiring of the freshly painted new vessel and pops open a bottle of champagne over the bow when she names it the Dimbula. Enthusiastic and impetuous, Miss Frazier is also depicted as a little naïve, such as when she is told by the skipper that the Dimbula needs to journey before earning its right to be called a true ship. Thus, Miss Frazier is a stand-in for a layperson unaccustomed with the workings of sea and ship, as well as for youth itself. She can also be said to represent the reader who finds out the true meaning of the skipper’s words only when the story ends.

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The Skipper

The captain of the Dimbula, the skipper is an experienced sailor who is wise in the ways of the sea. When Miss Frazier expresses her delight over the Dimbula’s strength and newness, the skipper tells her the ship still needs to find itself. Before the voyage, the vessel is “just irons and rivets and plates put in the form of a ship.” The skipper thus serves as a foil for Miss Frazier’s youthful inexperience. Unlike her, the skipper is not impressed by the superficial beauty of the Dimbula. Rather, the sailor knows the ship needs to face rough weather before it “finds” itself. The skipper’s voice represents the voice of wisdom and experience.

The Chief Engineer

A kindred spirit to the skipper, the chief engineer, Mr. Buchanan, represents the wise man of action. According to Mr. Buchanan, though the ship’s engines are technically running perfectly, “there’s no spontaneeity yet” in them. By speaking of the engines almost as if they were human, Mr. Buchanan displays a keen sympathy with machines.

The Steam

The Steam in the story is the anthropomorphic version of the steam which powers a steamship. It is depicted as wise and all-knowing, with a humorous streak, and is often gently amused by the declarations of the ship’s parts. The Steam moves through the Dimbula as the ship faces rough seas, coaxing and encouraging the parts to remain hopeful and work together. The Steam can be understood to represent many things: it could be the guiding wisdom or intuition in a human being, or the power of nature, or a higher, godlike force. The Steam establishes that it is experienced and old, having guided many ships and been a part of clouds and thunderstorms. Its voice is calm and kind and serves as a counterpoint to the squeaks and squeals of the ship’s parts. Thus, the Steam is represented as a soothing, parental force. However, it does not do the job of the ship’s parts for them; rather, it encourages them to find their strength and learn to perform their jobs well. In this sense, the Steam also represents good parenting. At the end of the story, as the Dimbula finds itself, the Steam declares one part of its job done, almost like a parent whose child has achieved independence. The transfer of responsibility from the Steam to the Dimbula represents a rite of passage on the Dimbula’s road to growing up.

The Dimbula

The Dimbula is a newly fitted and launched cargo-carrying steamship which undertakes its first sea voyage over the course of the story. Traveling over the rough stretch of Atlantic Ocean for over sixteen days between Liverpool and New York, the Dimbula earns its sea-legs. Like the Steam and the ship’s parts, the ship, too, is an anthropomorphic representation. The Dimbula can be interpreted as a metaphor for a growing human being, or for the human condition itself. Just as people truly grow up through experience, hard work, and facing challenges, the Dimbula must brave choppy waters before coming into its own. Until it completes a sea voyage, the Dimbula is merely the form of a vessel, much as a young person is unaware of their own strengths before being tested. Before facing the tests of nature, the parts of the Dimbula think of themselves in isolation. It is the pressure of the waves that makes them aware of each other and ultimately awakens the ship’s soul. Thus, the Dimbula’s voyage has spiritual connotations as well. Human beings, too, can only be fully aware of themselves when they think of themselves in relationship to others. In the end, the Dimbula declares that it has been a “fool” in not knowing its true nature, symbolizing the self-aware human being.

The Foremast

The Dimbula’s tall mast near its bow or front end, the foremast is depicted as an anxious being who often suspects a conspiracy around itself. Possibly grappling with too much information because of its view of the skies and sea, the foremast declares that the waves are in an “organized conspiracy” around the Dimbula. Ironically, the foremast believes its view is “dispassionate.” The text suggests that despite its lofty position, the foremast is as susceptible to flaws as the other parts of the ships.

The Prince Hyde Valve

Pompous and arrogant, the Prince Hyde Valve is a sea valve that periodically lets in seawater to cool the engines. Because it is a patented or branded entity, the valve uses big words such as “incontrovertible” and believes it is indispensable to the ship. The valve personifies a blinkered smugness, which the text gently satirizes.

The Garboard Strake

The bottommost plate of the ship, the Garboard Strake is thick and strong. At the start of the Dimbula’s voyage, the Garboard Strake feels imperiled under the weight of the cargo above and the push of the waves below. However, it gradually learns that it has “one fraction of an inch play” and can strain against the rivets to ease a little. The Garboard Strake represents the human ability to thrive under pressure.

The Rivets

The smallest of the ship’s parts, the rivets are permanent fasteners joining the ship’s plates and other parts to each other. The rivets are often depicted as weeping, alarmed that they have to let the parts move a little, contrary to what they’ve been “ordered.” Having let the plates shift, the rivets feel they have failed. The rivets think of themselves as small and helpless. However, the Steam tells them that each rivet is “the one indispensable part of the ship.” In time, the rivets understand their own worth and the value of spontaneity. The rivets symbolize any person who feels undervalued or experiences self-doubt.

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