Dana’s intention to write of sea life from the perspective of the common sailor makes Two Years Before the Mast unique among sea narratives. The book was immediately recognized in the United States and England as the most accurate picture of life at sea yet published. Although written for a general audience, the book is of interest to young readers because it dispels the romantic myths about sailing and gives an honest account of life aboard a sailing vessel. Its depiction of life in early California is also of interest historically.
Dana records the difficult life of the sailor: the absence in the steerage of berths, nails for clothing, and lights. The captain of the vessel, Captain T—(as Dana calls Captain Thompson throughout the book) is a model of efficiency; he is also a hard taskmaster, driving the men constantly and often depriving them of the Sabbath, their one day of rest. Although Dana’s sympathies are with the sailors, since he is one of them and must share their hardships, he objectively observes the happenings aboard the ship. Even in the concluding chapter, in which he recommends reforms for the sailors’ lives, he acknowledges that the captain must have full control over the ship to avoid chaos. After witnessing the floggings of two men for questioning the captain’s orders, he describes the incidents straightforwardly and places no more blame than necessary. After the floggings, however, he vows to do something to relieve the suffering of the sailors; later...
(The entire section is 613 words.)