The Characters

(Masterpieces of American Fiction)

Victor Henry does not come off as a wholly sympathetic or even heroic figure. Rather, like many of the “heroes” of The Caine Mutiny (1951), Victor is a flawed man with professional integrity and a knack for being in the right place at the critical time. Roosevelt praises his eye for detail, and no one questions his dedication as an officer. Yet he himself admits that he has been a mediocre husband and, to his daughter Madeline especially, a rather poor and distant father. Despite his long service record and strength of character, he has no really close personal friends in the navy. His son Warren is very much of the same mold: tough, loyal, athletic, “navy” head to toe. The potential black sheep of the family, Byron, possesses as much physical courage as the other Henry men, and more personal courage, as shown by his marrying a Jewess and his impertinence toward superior officers. The women are more complex, but only Madeline transcends the stereotype of 1940’s women: devoted to a man, preferably one’s husband, and resigned to a “woman’s place.” Her relationship with Hugh Cleveland defies convention more than does Byron’s sometimes trivial rebelliousness.

Victor Henry’s loyalty to flag and navy contrasts with his often wandering eye and occasionally wandering heart. The younger women of the novel interest him more than his still attractive wife. His fascination with the darkly beautiful Natalie eventually leads to his...

(The entire section is 416 words.)