A somewhat underappreciated novel written shortly before Moby-Dick. Though it contains some of Melville's best black humor (particularly the hilarious Surgeon of the Fleet episode), the book is mostly noted for its contribution to the abolition of flogging in the U.S. Navy.
eerage Steward, Commodore's cook, Captain's cook, Officers' cook, Cooks of the range, Mess-cooks, hammock-boys, messenger boys, cot-boys, loblolly-boys and numberless others, whose functions are fixed and peculiar.
It is from this endless subdivision of duties in a man-of-war, that, upon first entering one, a sailor has need of a good memory, and the more of an arithmetician he is, the better.
White-Jacket, for one, was a long time rapt in calculations, concerning the various "numbers" allotted him by the _First Luff_, otherwise known as the First Lieutenant. In the first place, White-Jacket was given the _number of his mess_; then, his _ship's number_, or the number to which he must answer when the watch-roll is called; then, the number of his hammock; then, the number of the gun to which he was assigned; besides a variety of other numbers; all of which would have taken Jedediah Buxton himself some time to arrange in battalions, previous to adding up. All these numbers, moreover, must be well remembere
This is not your father's Herman Melville (to coin a phrase). It would seem that when Melville wrote Moby-Dick, he put on his literature hat. White-Jacket is almost the antithesis. It is casual, witty, adventuresome, self-deprecating and contemplative. It is in the main a memoir of a year spent on a U.S. man-of-war, the 54-gun frigate USS Neversink in a voyage from Chile to Norfolk during the 1840'5. While names are changed to protect the innocent, it provides candid (sometimes extreme) portraits of the personnel and behavior encountered in this experience. The language is precise and evocative, and some of the descriptions are hilarious. A goodly portion of the book focuses on the abuses of sailors' rights and such practices as flogging. This disrupts the continuity of the narrative but clearly Melville felt it necessary at the time, and one cannot argue with his positions. An altogether ripping yarn, highly recommended mariner's literature.