Home | Books By Year | Books from 1850



Buy White-Jacket now from Amazon

First, read the Wikipedia article. Then, scroll down to see what other TopShelfReview readers thought about the book. And once you've experienced the book, tell everyone what you thought about it.

Wikipedia article

'White-Jacket; or, The World in a Man-of-War', usually referred to as 'White-Jacket', is an 1850 novel by Herman Melville first published in England on January 23 by Richard Bentley and in the U.S. on March 21 by Harper & Brothers.Hayford, Harrison, "Chronology", which is included at the back of all three volumes of the Library of America edition of Melville's writings.


Based on Melville's experiences as a common seaman aboard the frigate from 1843 to 1844 and stories that other sailors told him, the novel is severely critical of virtually every aspect of American naval life and thus qualifies as Melville's most politically strident work. At the time, though, the one thing that journalists and politicians focused on in the novel was its graphic descriptions of flogging and the horrors caused by its arbitrary use; in fact, because Harper & Bros. made sure the book got into the hands of every member of Congress, 'White-Jacket' was instrumental in abolishing flogging in the U.S. Navy forever. Melville scholars also acknowledge the huge number of parallels between 'White-Jacket' and 'Billy Budd' and view the former as a rich source for possible interpretations of the latter.Hayford, Harrison and Sealts, Jr., Merton, eds. 'Billy Budd, Sailor (An Inside Narrative)', "Editors' Introduction", p. 31. ISBN 0-226-32132-0.

The symbolism of the color white, introduced in this novel in the form of the narrator's jacket, is more fully expanded upon in 'Moby-Dick,' where it becomes an all-encompassing "blankness."Melville, Herman and Bryant, ed. Tales, Poems, and Other Writings, p. xxv. ISBN 0-679-64105-X. The mixture of journalism, history, and fiction; the presentation of a sequence of striking characters; the metaphor of a sailing ship as the world in miniatureall of these prefigure his next novel, 'Moby-Dick.'


'This list is not exhaustive.'

*White-Jacket, the main character and narrator, so nicknamed because his coat is the only white one on board; a novice sailor (at least on a naval ship), his jacket often gets him into trouble, mostly because of its whiteness

*Jack Chase, a sailor of British origin who is universally regarded by his fellow seamen and even by the officers as the epitome of a true and good sailor; he shows contempt for any man who has shipped out on a whaler

*Captain Claret, a captain of usually severe tendencies, his name reflects the fact that he is also an alcoholic


*Selvagee, a lieutenant whose leadership style is tyrannical

*Mad Jack, a lieutenant whose leadership style is collegial

*Lemsford, a sailor who aspires to be a poet

*Quoin, a sailor "indefatigable in attending to his duties, which consisted in taking care of one division of the guns"'White-Jacket', Quality Paperback Book Club edition (reprint), p. 51. 1996. No ISBN found.

*Nord, a sailor of surly look and melancholy disposition; when White-Jacket first encounters him, the only friend Nord has on board is Lemsford


*Wooloo, the commodore's Polynesian servant

*Old Revolver

*Old Combustibles



*Bland, the ship's master-at-arms

*Emperor Don Pedro II

Publication history

'White-Jacket' was published in the United States in March 1850. Melville referred to it and his previous book 'Redburn' as "two 'jobs' which I have done for moneybeing forced to it as other men are to sawing wood".Delbanco, Andrew: 'Melville, His World and Work'. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2005: 111. ISBN 0-375-40314-0

Legal impact

At the urging of New Hampshire Senator John P. Hale, the United States Congress banned flogging on all U.S. ships in September 1850.George Hodak, "Congress Bans Maritime Flogging," 'ABA Journal' September 1850, p. 72. Found at [http://www.abajournal.com/magazine/article/congress_bans_maritime_flogging/ ABA Journal website]. Accessed October 18, 2010. He was inspired by Melville's "vivid description of flogging, a brutal staple of 19th century naval discipline" in his "novelized memoir" 'White-Jacket'.


Buy White-Jacket now from Amazon

<-- Return to books from 1850

comments powered by Disqus

This work is released under CC-BY-SA. Some or all of this content attributed to http://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?oldid=512616146.