Assignment: Understanding Context of Captains Courageous

Captains Courageous Context Assignment

In order to try to understand what Rudyard Kipling was using allegory and parable to describe, we have to gain a better understanding of the time and place about which he was giving his commentary.  As we’ve discussed, we need to understand the context and author’s background in order to interpret their work as accurately as possible, this is certainly true of Captains Courageous.

This assignment requires you to dig into Kipling’s first impressions of America based on the notes he took when he traveled across America in 1889.  (Seven years before C. C. was published.)

You will also get some feel for the historical, political and economic characteristics of 19th Century America and America’s relationship with the British through an article entitled, “The Myth of America’s ‘Free Security’ (Reconsiderations)” by Fareed Zakaria, editor of Newsweek’s International editions since 2000.  OR American Foreign Policy in the Late 19th Century:Philosophical Underpinnings By Michael Chimes (which I recommend.) (

American Notes and one of the other two accounts are required reading.  You will need to take notes on them, commenting on how what you read helps you better understand what Kipling was saying in Captains Courageous through “allegory, parable and metaphor.”  (Please carefully review his statements below.)  I expect at least one page typed, double space, or two full handwritten journal pages, 1 ½ if your writing is especially small. 

Your notes need to be from at least two sections of Kipling’s “American Notes” and from something you gleaned from Dr. Zakaria’s or Michael Chime’s articles.

“Captains Courageous” Introduction by Professor Leonee Ormond

Kipling and the Critics: In December 1897 Rudyard Kipling was in low spirits. The weather was inclement, he had an atrocious cold, and a review of Captains Courageous in the Atlantic Monthly (LXXX Dec 1897, pp 856/7) had left him smarting. The Atlantic critic complained that, although the book achieved `relief from the go-fever and insistence of Kipling’s earlier work, `it is relief procured at the cost of life…. There is an almost incredible lack of significance in parts of it, as if it were a steamer underengined for its length.’ Kipling was startled by the reviewer’s strictures. These were, he said, exactly the qualities which he associated with the United States. Interpreting `relief’ in his own way, Kipling explained his position to an American friend, Charles Eliot Norton: Had I gone about with a lantern to describe America I could not have hit on a more splendid description than `relief at the cost of life’. Relief from the material cares of the Elder Peoples at the cost of what the Elder Peoples mean by life! And again `There is an almost incredible insignificance in parts of it, as if it were a steamer underengined on its length’. Why, hang it! that’s his own very country and in half a dozen words he gets at the nub of the thing I was laboriously painting in C. C.

`For this’, went on Kipling, `did I change my style; and allegorize and parable and metaphor.’ (

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