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The Caine Mutiny

Herman Wouk

Character List

Plot Overview

Character Analysis

Willie Keith  -  Son of aristocratic Long Island parents, Princeton graduate, and accomplished lounge pianist, he is the protagonist of The Caine Mutiny. Willie does not narrate the novel, but we see events from his viewpoint, and the narration focuses almost entirely on his experience. Over the course of the novel, Willie sheds his selfish, babyish ways and becomes a man.

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May Wynn  -  An stunningly beautiful lounge singer whose given name is Marie Minotti, she is Willie's love interest. Though uneducated and from a lower class than Willie, May is insightful, assertive, and endearing. Often, she bravely instigates conversations that Willie was too timid to begin himself.

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Mrs. Keith  -  A controlling influence on Willie, she shelters and protects her son with money and influence. Mrs. Keith does not want Willie to go away to war. When he must, she tries to arrange a safe stateside position for him. Mrs. Keith's intentions are always good, but she does not truly understand her son. She feels like she has to keep her son out of trouble, but in trying to do this, she prevents him from growing up.
Mr. Keith  -  He plays a small role in Willie's development while he is alive, but Mr. Keith's dying letters and Willie's memory of him are a source of much of Willie's determination. In the letters, Mr. Keith explains to his son that he took the comfortable road through life and never really challenged himself. For this he considers himself a failure, and his last hope for happiness depends on Willie choosing a different life than he did.
Edwin Keggs  -  An algebra teacher during peacetime, he becomes Willie's friend when their last names make them roommates in midshipmen's school. Keggs' appearances in the novel show how different assignments in the Navy can lead to very different impressions of the service. Willie and Keggs are equally impressionable when they leave school, but when they meet later, Willie has been softened by the loose rules of the Caine, and Keggs has been made completely subordinate to the harsh dictatorship aboard the Moulton.
Roland -  Willie's other roommate in midshipmen's school, and Tom Keefer's brother, he stands out from the other officer candidates because comes from a military school. Roland understands the way the military works, and knows exactly what he needs to do to get by. Roland changes at some point between the parting of the two ensigns in Pearl Harbor and their meeting at sea. He loses weight and gains an intense zeal to serve his country.
Thomas Keefer  -  A scholar in a band of idiots, Thomas Keefer is the antihero of The Caine Mutiny, despite all of his admirable qualities. Some consider him an extremely competent officer, but he has a terrible attitude toward the service, and carries out his duties badly. When Keefer is trusted with the role of captain, he proves to be just as bad as Queeg. Also, the novel that Keefer cites as his true passion, though it will sell plenty of copies, has no real literary merit, despite the extent of his reading and knowledge.
Steve Maryk  -  A peacetime fisherman who decides that he wants to convert to the regular Navy after the war, his story is one of the saddest elements of the novel. Maryk is straightforward, blunt, and simple, but extremely loyal, dedicated, and knowledgeable about the sea and boat handling. Because of his naiveté, Maryk is taken in by Keefer's constant complaining against the captain, and is perhaps falsely convinced of Queeg's madness.
Philip Francis Queeg  -  A young, ambitious, self-described "bookman," he presents one of the great mysteries of The Caine Mutiny. He acts stubbornly, rashly, and harshly in many circumstances, but the whether the symptoms actually add up to a clinical case of paranoia, as his men claim, is not clear. One of the most interesting sociological phenomena in the book is the "circle of compliance," that forms around Queeg, in which is extravagant orders are performed to perfection within the circle, and utterly ignored outside it.
Captain De Vriess  -  The first captain of the Caine under whom Willie serves, he is probably the best captain to command the ship. With only an abbreviated understanding of how the Navy and ships like the Caine run, he emphasizes performance, not appearance. He makes a very accurate assessment of Willie to Keefer early in the book, saying that though Willie needs conditioning, he will turn into a competent officer. De Vriess is well liked by the crew, who present him with a silver watch upon his departure from the ship.
Barney Greenwald  -  A hotshot New York lawyer in peacetime, this Jewish fighter pilot is pressured into defending Maryk and the rest of the Caine mutineers. Greenwald is an exceptionally gifted speaker, and very persuasive. Against his beliefs, he gets Maryk acquitted, but then reprimands the crew for their attack on the Navy.
Marty Rubin -  May Wynn's agent, he is a wholehearted supporter and friend to May and Willie, although Willie suspects him of having an affair with May. Marty sets May up with the jobs that allow her to support her family, he finds an apartment she can afford, and in the end, he helps Willie find May when she does not want to be found.
Lieutenant Rabbitt -  A loyal senior officer through the reigns of De Vriess and Queeg, he greets Willie with these prophetic words: "You don't know what you're jumping into." When Rabbittt receives orders to leave the Caine, he is the envy of the ship.
Whittaker -  The African American steward's mate on the Caine, this enlisted sailor must provide coffee for the officers whenever they want it and prepare the meals. The crew appreciate his services, but many still discriminate against Whittaker because of his race.
Harding  -  An ensign on the Caine, he is Willie's first friend aboard ship. Their bond is solidified when Willie gives his hat to Harding to vomit into atop the crow's nest. Harding is married, and views the war differently than Willie does because of his attachments.
Burt Gorton  -  As executive officer to Captain De Vriess, he is friendly and easygoing with the crew, but maintains the authority needed to perform his duties. When Queeg takes over, Gorton reacts by changing his command style to match the captain's desire for discipline.
Horrible -  Everett Harold Black, known to the crew only as Horrible, is the only person to die onboard the Caine during its many voyages. His unfortunate demise reminds Willie of the inevitability of death.
Stilwell -  Creator of much controversy on the Caine, he is Queeg's unfortunate scapegoat. Queeg's inhumane treatment of Stilwell is what clinches Willie's opinion that the captain is a monster. Stilwell chooses to risk his military career in order to save his marriage.
Meatball -  A pudgy but good-humored sailor, he illustrates the typical role of the drafted sailor. He shows an uncanny understanding of the problems with the captain, and eventually looks up to Willie as a voice of reason and confirmation among the officers.
Jack Challee  -  As judge advocate in Steve Maryk's trial, it is his job to prosecute the mutineer. Challee thinks that Queeg's case is a plain and simple one of allowing the psychologists to prove Queeg sane. He is very distraught when Greenwald's tricks cause a probable miscarriage of justice.
Ducely -  The son of the owner of an east coast shipyard, he is a spoiled brat who shows what Willie could have been in the Navy. Ducey avoids the danger of war and arranges a safe career, just as Willie could have and did not.
Jorgensen  -  A newcomer to Queeg's reign, he is an ensign who is shocked by the regular injustices that take place aboard the Caine.
Farrington  -  The last ensign to report to the Caine under Queeg's rule, he is exactly what Willie was when Willie first came aboard the ship. He demonstrates the continuity of the Navy's program of indoctrinating sailors.

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