The Caine Mutiny

by: Herman Wouk

Chapters 38–40

Summary Chapters 38–40

The couple kiss and then bicker halfheartedly. May agrees to see Willie again the next morning. May gives no official word, but Willie is confident that he has won. He wanders into a Navy parade that is happening outside. He feels confident about May, and pleased by the change in him since the last time he walked the streets of New York.

Analysis

In the Kamikaze attack at Okinawa, Willie Keith finally becomes a whole man. He proves by his actions, his clarity of thought, his leadership, and his fearlessness that nothing of the spoiled, plump, mother's boy remains. He also has the revelation that if he died, all he would regret is not marrying May. It finally becomes clear to Willie that he loves May more than he cares about his mother's opinion. This realization is in the spirit of Mr. Keith's advice. As decisively as Willie acts to fix the damage caused by the kamikaze, he acts even more quickly to remedy the damage he caused to his relationship with May.

Whereas the weaker personalities of Keefer and Queeg became subsumed in the isolation of command, Willie steps smoothly into his new role. He acts as he did before assuming command, treating the crew with respect and focusing his attention on protecting their collective interests, not just his own. Whereas Queeg or Keefer would probably have allowed the ship to wash up on shore during the hurricane, Willie keeps the ship safe and earns the respect of the crew and the Naval administration for it. In contrast to Keefer and Queeg, who ruled the Caine because the Navy said they should, De Vriess, Maryk, and Willie led the ship because they were the sailors best suited for the job. Their seamanship and bravery set them apart from the lesser captains. They did not have to order things done. They would simply ask, and the crew's desire to please them, and the knowledge that the captains were acting for the best of the ship, made fulfilling the request painless.

When Willie leaves the Navy, he feels not joy or sadness, but a fulfilling sense of accomplishment. There is a striking difference between the man who returns to his mother's Cadillac and the boy who had left it. The confidence, decisiveness, and authority that Willie has amassed allow him to win May over during their reunion in New York. It was Willie's intelligence and playful youth that first attracted May to him, but it is his mature stability, persistence, and poise that make her consider marrying Willie.