Help with Allegory Insights – excerpts from Professor Leonee Ormond

Allegory Insight:

Captains Courageous set in approx. 1866.

 Excerpt Below from: “Captains Courageous” A note on the text
by Professor Leonee Ormond

After the account of Disko’s blow and of Harvey’s fall at the end of Chapter I, Kipling made fewer changes between manuscript and magazine versions. A high proportion of these relate to the account of the relationship between Uncle Salters and Pennsylvania Pratt, the former minister whom the irritable Salters has supported after the Johnstown flood. When he published the novel, Kipling decided to reduce greatly the number of arguments between Salters and Penn, together with the passages which describe the effect of these upon the rest of the crew. Kipling’s intention, here and elsewhere, seems to have been to reduce any suggestion of serious disharmony on the We’re Here. He may also have felt that the Salters-Penn relationship was threatening the balance of his tightly constructed narrative.

Other omissions were made to lessen any impression that the crew of the We’re Here might be rough or brutal. Between manuscript and serial publication Kipling removed a paragraph from Chapter V describing how Disko Troop deliberately cut the jib boom on the boat of a young Gloucester captain who was encroaching upon him, together with the wisecracking which accompanied the act. On the next page, Kipling excised a few words in a commentary on Disko’s dislike of mixing with the crews of other nations. The deleted words specifically stated that Disko avoided contacts which might be undesirable for his son, Dan. An exchange of reasonably friendly interracial insults disappeared from Chapter VIII, and Harvey’s interplay with Wouverman’s clerk over the value of Disko’s fish was taken out of the following chapter. With each of these changes Captains Courageous moved further away from the `realist’ tradition of the ouvrier novel.

Excerpt Below from:

“Captains Courageous”Introduction by Professor Leonee Ormond

Kipling’s changes to the text do not alter the general direction of a story which Daniel Karlin is right to see as an allegory of the American future. (‘Captains Courageous and American Empire’, Kipling Journal Sep 1989, 11-12). Harvey’s two ‘fathers’, Harvey Cheyne senior and Disko Troop, are contrasted figures of the West and East coasts. Cheyne (chain) is the `kinless’ self-made man of the mechanical future while Troop is descended from generations of Gloucester fishermen. One of Kipling’s original titles was Harvey Cheyne: Banker, and by the end of the book Harvey is proud to have earned his wages and to have become a `banker’, one who has fished on the Grand Banks. Even so, he will never row or rig sails as well as Disko’s son, Dan, trained to the task from a young age. Appropriately for his future role as a captain of industry, Harvey’s most useful function on the We’re Here is to do Disko Troop’s arithmetic.

An Allegory of Changing Times

Even while Kipling researched and wrote Captains Courageous, he knew that these schooner fishermen and their skills were doomed. It has been said that he was describing the practices of thirty years before, when Conland himself was at sea. The future lay with the Cheynes and with Dan Troop, who is fascinated by ideas of the `progressive’. Appropriately, the book ends with Dan as a mate on board one of the Cheynes’ liners. As his mother concisely puts it, he accepts a job which will take him out and in on short voyages, not out for months like his father into the mysterious world of the Grand Banks. The pattern of the American twentieth century is established.

…. Kipling did not, however, look into the future with optimism. He told Norton that he objected to the Atlantic reviewer’s description of Captains Courageous as `healthy’, `simple’, and ‘vigorous’.(Letters of Rudyard Kipling ii, 323, Atlantic Monthly Dec 1897). He had not meant, he said, to commend Harvey’s conversation with his father in Chapter X, but believed the attitudes shown there to be `flagrantly un-moral not to say heathen’.(Letters of Rudyard Kipling ii, 323.) Kipling was probably referring to Cheyne’s account of his successful career, `seeking his own ends, and, so he said, the glory and advancement of his country’. Kipling’s whole treatment of Cheyne senior is, however, far more ambivalent than this comment about him would suggest. In Captains Courageous, Kipling conveys considerable admiration for Cheyne and for his career as a successful self-made man. He is presented as a representative figure of the new America, and as such he is representative of Kipling’s own uncertainty about his American experience. For the late twentieth-century reader, Cheyne’s words contain, in any case, little which could be classed as `heathen’, except perhaps his comments on his educated rivals, part of an attempt to persuade Harvey to go to college: `I can break them to little pieces-yes-but I can’t get back at ’em to hurt ’em where they live.’

….. Like Kipling, Conrad underlines the importance of communal endeavour under the leadership of a controlling and right-minded captain. Both captains have fine navigational skills, and the image of the ship at sea becomes a model for a society of men employed on a difficult and isolating task. When Arthur Symons complained that both The Nigger of the `Narcissus’ and Captains Courageous were full of brilliant descriptive prose but of nothing more, Conrad sprang to the defence of Kipling and himself, insisting upon their serious purpose in an article,

…. Kipling originally conceived of Disko’s brother, Uncle Salters, as a more abrasive character, and gave a fuller account of Salters’s arguments with the former minister, Pennsylvania Pratt. Among the other victims of Kipling’s blue pencil were some of the more aggressive taunts shouted from the We’re Here to passing vessels. These cuts had a similar effect, domesticating a crew whose originals would certainly have used stronger language. Even Disko was conceived as a less controlled character. Another deleted passage describes how he breaks off the boom of a young Gloucester captain who encroaches upon his water.
…. Like The Nigger of the `Narcissus’ and Moby Dick, Captains Courageous is a book about a male world. Following a pattern familiar in other works by Kipling (including The Jungle Book and Kim), the boy Harvey reaches maturity through contact with other males, presented as contrasting father figures or teachers.

….Of the two main women characters, Constance Cheyne and Mrs Troop, the former is held to be largely responsible for her son’s failings (although it could be claimed that her husband’s neglect is the real cause of both her neurasthenia and Harvey’s brattishness). Kipling dropped the rings, and the comparison to a fictional sister, with which he ‘feminized’ the unreformed Harvey of the manuscript, but the cherry red blazer, knickerbockers, and bicycle shoes remain to disgust Disko Troop. After his experience at sea, it is to his father that Harvey turns, his mother being left on the sidelines, a state of affairs that Kipling confidently attributes to Harvey’s maturity. Mrs Troop, in keeping with her role, is more reliable, and not subject to hysteria, but her part in the book is strictly stereotyped. She stands for the home virtues: `a large woman, silent and grave, with the dim eyes of those who look long to sea for the return of their beloved’.

Dan, who spends half the year at school, `interprets’ the boat for Harvey and for the reader. Dan is one of the only two characters who understand something of Harvey’s ‘otherness’ in the community of the We’re Here. Dan believes that Harvey is telling the truth about his wealthy background. The other character who grasps this, if at a quite different level, is the cook, a negro from Cape Breton, Nova Scotia, who speaks very little, and, when he does, most easily employs the Gaelic of the Scots community. The cook, whose nickname of Doctor seems close to witch doctor, arrives at understanding through intuition, and is one of the two sailors gifted with second sight. The other, the one-time Moravian preacher Jacob Boller (otherwise Pennsylvania Pratt), achieves it only in flashes, as when he tells the bereaved sea captain that his son will be restored to him: ‘”They have found his son”, cried Penn. “Stand you still and see the Salvation of the Lord!”‘

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1 Response to Help with Allegory Insights – excerpts from Professor Leonee Ormond

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

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