Captains Courageous Introduction Hand Out

Captains Courageous Title



[October 29th 2003]

[Title] The words `Captains Courageous’ come from the ballad of `Mary Ambree’, the legendary heroine who fought against the Spanish in the 1584 siege of Ghent. The opening lines are

When captains courageous, whom death could not daunt,
Did march to the siege of the city of Gaunt,
They mustered their soldiers by two and by three,
And the foremost in battle was Mary Ambree.

Later in the poem, Mary Ambree herself addresses the Spanish leaders as `captains courageous of valour so bold’, with the implication that the term can also be applied to enemies. Kipling may have known “Mary Ambree” from Percy’s Reliques of Ancient English Poetry, first published in 1765. He had already used the title “Captains Courageous” for an article on businessmen as the new adventurers, published in The Times of 23 Nov. 1892, and reprinted in Letters of Travel

SETTING of Captain’s Courageous

The Gloucester, Massachusetts schooner “We’re Here” (pronounced Glosster—like floss), fishing on the Grand Banks—a very famous and highly productive fishery in the 1800’s especially.  See Page 2.

Setting haddock trawls from schooner under sail; Set at right angles to course of the vessel Drawing by H. W. Elliott and Capt. J. W. Collins Credit: NOAA National Marine Fisheries Service Category: Cod, Hake & Haddock Fishery/

Setting haddock trawls from schooner under sail; Set at right angles to course of the vessel Drawing by H. W. Elliott and Capt. J. W. Collins Credit: NOAA National Marine Fisheries Service Category: Cod, Hake & Haddock Fishery/

Map showing the Grand Banks

The Grand Banks of Newfoundland are a group of underwater plateaus southeast of Newfoundland on the North American continental shelf. These areas are relatively shallow, ranging from 80 to 330 feet (24–100 m) in depth. The cold Labrador Current mixes with the warm waters of the Gulf Stream here.

The mixing of these waters and the shape of the ocean bottom lifts nutrients to the surface. These conditions helped to create one of the richest fishing grounds in the world. Fish species include Atlantic cod, haddock, and capelin. Shellfish include scallop and lobster. The area also supports large colonies of sea birds such as Northern Gannets, shearwaters, and sea ducks and various sea mammals such as seals, dolphins, and whales.

In addition to the effects on nutrients, the mixing of the cold and warm currents often causes fog in the area.

READ THE EXERPT BELOW—This is how we know Captains Courageous was written as an allegory, a parable and full of metaphor.  These statements are the backbone of our investigation to understand what the author intended this story to mean.

Excerpt from

“Captains Courageous”


by Professor Leonee Ormond

Notes on the text

These notes are based on those written by Leonee Ormond for the OXFORD WORLD’S CLASSICS edition of Captains Courageous (1995) with the kind permission of Oxford University Press. Except where stated otherwise, the page numbers below refer to the Macmillan Uniform Edition of Captains Courageous (1899, and frequently reprinted since).


[Oct 27 2003]
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.’



A Note by Kate MacDonald about Racial Slurs and the Subject of Racism in Captains Courageous:


This nameless cook is a haunting character. He has second sight, which gives him a status that requires respect. He’s a descendant of slaves from Cape Breton, and is, even more unusually, a Gaelic speaker with voodoo beliefs. Kipling’s description of this character fits the culture of his time, with occasional use of the n-word in the dialogue that will offend readers who don’t understand historical context. (AND even those who do, but it was common language in 1896 when Kipling wrote CC.)


But Kipling is also egalitarian: Disko most pointedly does not hold with slavery. The cook is treated with great respect on the ship, and is an equal, paid member of the crew. His seeing into the future adds gooseflesh to this story of boys and men on a very small boat in the middle of the deep green sea.

Rudyard Kipling and Captains Courageous 


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1 Response to Captains Courageous Introduction Hand Out

  1. Pingback: Captains Courageous Assignment Overview and Due Dates | Literature Discovery

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