The Caine Mutiny

by: Herman Wouk

Captain Queeg

At the center of all interpretations of The Caine Mutiny lies a debate over Captain Queeg's sanity. It is particularly difficult to assess Queeg's sanity because we see his actions through the eyes of an unreliable man. During the typhoon, it seems clear that Queeg is insane, but later, when Willie reveals in the court martial that his impressions were tainted, we have to reexamine the event from a more objective point of view. We must also wonder whether Willie's subjectivity colored the rest of Queeg's travesties, many of which seemed insane.

While many of Queeg's acts are rash and cruel, none are absolutely indicative of an insane person. Queeg is unsuited for the pressures of command, simpleminded, stubborn, paranoid, and confrontational, but he is not necessarily insane. He performs admirably in the routine elements of his command and would have made an excellent commander in a peacetime Navy. However, Queeg performs badly under the extreme circumstances of war when asked to perform tasks for which he is unprepared and to command sailors more educated, clever, and skilled than he.