The Caine Mutiny: Novel Summary: II The Caine
II The Caine
6 Dr. Keith's Letter
Willie arrives in San Francisco, awaiting transport to the USS Caine. In his hotel room he contemplates a phonograph record and a letter: the record is a recording of May singing and the letter is from his father. Willie ponders the letter's contents, but his father has made him swear that he will not open it until he is aboard the Caine.
Though he has vowed that he will break off his relationship with May, he decides to write her one last letter; then once at sea he can make a clean break. When the letter is nearly completed, he receives a phone call from Keefer, who invites him to a party at a junior officer's club and informs him that Keggs has already gone to sea. Willie finishes the letter and reflects on how he felt cheated that he had been assigned to a World War I-era minesweeper, even though he had done so well at midshipmen school.
Willie ends up going on a twenty-day drinking binge with Keefer, during which Willie pleases women and fellow Navy men by playing piano and singing songs. An acquaintance gets Willie and Keefer aboard a hospital ship for their travel westward toward the Hawaiian islands. The trip continues the pair's fun. Willie and Keefer leave the ship together, in the company of two nurses, whom they promise to meet for dinner. Willie goes off in search of the Caine. He learns that his ship has put out to sea, but he cannot learn precisely where the ship is or how to get there. Eventually, he gives up and returns to Keefer, who notes that the girls have been invited to a party being given by an admiral and they are going to accompany them. Keefer prompts Willie to play piano at the party, and he is a hit with the admiral and the other guests. When the admiral learns where Willie is stationed, he asks Captain Matson to help Willie get to the Caine.
The next morning Willie goes to the captain's office, and the captain offers to put him aboard a plane to Australia, where he might be able to catch up with the Caine. But he also suggests that he could have Willie temporarily assigned to the officer's pool at the base until the Caine returns. Willie elects to stay put and await the Caine's return. Willie returns to tell Keefer the news and later comes across his father's letter once again. This time he decides to read it. His father writes that by the time Willie reads the letter he will likely be dead. In the letter, Willie's father bemoans the fact that he has really done little with his life. Dr. Keefer confides that his wife always felt Willie was soft and needed to be looked after, but he had come to believe that Willie was stronger than she estimated. He notes that Willie's life on the Caine will be tough, but he believes that it will test him and make him a better man. After reading the letter, Willie wants to phone home but is not permitted to do so. He sends a telegram and the next morning receives word from his mother that his father died three days earlier. Bolstered by his father's letter, Willie visits Captain Matson to tell him that he would like to have his orders changed so that he can catch up with the Caine sooner, noting that playing piano for the admiral wasn't doing much for the war effort. The captain is displeased and denies Willie's request. As a result, Willie remains on the base and plays for the admiral.
7 The Caine
With time, the sting of his father's death recedes, and Willie once again begins to enjoy life at Pearl Harbor. He continues to write letters to May. He learns that Keefer's half-brother, Tom-a literary type-is also aboard the Caine. One morning, after a drunken ordeal, Willie is awakened by a crewman from the Caine, with orders to report immediately. Without waking Keefer, Willie packs his belongings and heads for the Caine.
Willie is taken to a small boat to be ferried out to the Caine. Aboard the boat Willie is surprised by the slovenly dressed and verbally loose sailors. Once aboard the Caine, Willie is flabbergasted by the deplorable condition of the ship. When he first encounters Captain de Vriess, the captain is naked, apparently on his way to the shower. The captain greets Willie and informs him that he will serve in communications. Willie is shown to his bunk, in a cramped, hot portion of the ship. He enquires about Tom Keefer and is told that Keefer is normally in his bed. Willie explores the ship and eventually encounters Keefer, the communications officer and his immediate superior. Keefer's room is packed with literature.
8 Captain de Vriess
Willie and another new officer, Harding, are taken on a tour of the ship. The tour ends with Willie and Harding having to climb the mast into the crow's nest. Once in the crow's nest, Harding becomes ill and has to vomit; Willie lends Harding his cap so that he doesn't have to vomit on the sailors below. Later that evening Willie and Harding begin their officer's qualification courses. Their first assignment is to create a detailed drawing of the ship. They attempt to construct the drawing from memory but give up. Harding suggests that they find some blueprints; Willie agrees and suggests that it's the first thing they should do-in the morning. They attempt to get some sleep, but the ship's repair makes it tough. Willie is abruptly awakened by Lieutenant Adams for the four-to-eight watch. He is surprised by the lackadaisical attitude of the men guarding the ship and has trouble keeping them awake. When he asks Adams how to handle the issue, he is told that he should be easy with them because they have been through quite a bit lately. When Willie implies that the ship is a wreck, Adams is offended and Willie realizes that he needs to watch his words. Willie works hard decoding messages all day, and later that evening Roland Keefer and two nurses board the ship. Willie attempts to get shore leave, but is denied leave by both Adams and Captain de Vriess because he hasn't completed his drawing assignment. The captain is unmoved by Willie's plea, and Willie must hastily create his sketches while Keefer and the girls wait, conversing with the captain.
The evening is a drunken one, with Willie, Roland and Tom Keefer, and the girls all drinking excessively. On the way home, Willie asks Tom if he thinks the captain is a lousy commander; Tom agrees. Willie has barely fallen asleep when he is awakened to decode a message, which states that Captain de Vriess is to be replaced by Lieutenant Commander Philip F. Queeg. Willie gushes over the news, but Paynter, who receives the message, says he won't celebrate until he meets Queeg. Willie insists on delivering the message to the captain, who receives it flatly. Willie is convinced Queeg has to be better than de Vriess.
9 First Day at Sea
With her repairs finished, the Caine is ordered to sea for minesweeping exercises. Willie asks the captain if he thinks this means the ship will perform active minesweeping, but the captain can't say for certain. Roland Keefer visits the ship again and brings a packet of letters for Willie. A letter from May notes that she is still in college and has been making money singing for a radio program but no longer aspires to become a star; she professes her love for Willie. At dinner the men debate life aboard the Caine, with Tom Keefer noting that he would rather be stationed aboard an aircraft carrier. Keefer recognizes the symbolism behind the Caine's name and claims that all aboard are outcasts, like the biblical Cain.
In the morning, Willie is somewhat impressed by the ease with which Captain de Vriess expertly guides the Caine from her berth to sea. Willie learns that Tom Keefer is writing a novel. He asks Tom about it, and they discuss both literature and the Navy, which Tom asserts is an outfit designed by geniuses but executed by morons.
The Caine approaches three other ships, and Willie thinks he sees Keggs aboard one of them. He attempts to signal the other ship with a signal light, but he is stopped and chided by the captain. Willie again feels that de Vriess is a moron.
10 The Lost Message
The Caine participates in minesweeping drills. Willie is amazed at the operation, but the captain isn't pleased with how long it took the men to deploy the equipment. While the exercises progress, Willie receives a message to decode; rather than decoding it immediately, he places it in his wet pants pocket, where it remains for several days.
When the exercises have concluded, the Caine returns to Pearl Harbor and docks next to the Moulton, Keggs' ship. Willie gets permission to visit Keggs and discovers that though the Moulton is the same class of ship as the Caine, it is run in a very different manner. Compared to the Caine, the Moulton is spotless. Keggs doesn't seem healthy to Willie, and when Willie meets the captain he understands that he is far more dictatorial than de Vriess. When Willie returns to the Caine, he discovers that he has had an invitation to an admiral's party for that evening. He contemplates his visit to the Moulton and can't quite grasp how the more efficiently run Moulton could be outdone in the exercises by the dilapidated Caine. As he is contemplating this discrepancy, he is told to report to the captain's cabin immediately.
The meeting concerns the message Willie forgot to decode. The captain recognized the missing message and as a result assembled the radio officer, Tom Keefer, and Willie before him. Willie admits that he received the message but failed to decode it, and the captain calls for a duplicate copy to be immediately decoded by Keefer. The message is that de Vriess is to be reassigned, and Queeg is to take over the Caine immediately. Captain de Vriess berates Willie for his failure to immediately decode the message. De Vriess tells Willie that he has been working on the officers' fitness reports, and he will now have to change his assessment of Willie. He shares the report with Willie, and Willie understands that a weak evaluation could mark him as an ineffective officer, effectively blackballing him. The captain also decides to punish Willie by placing him in "hack," effectively restricting him to the ship for three days. When Willie gives the captain his invitation to the admiral's party, the captain pushes off his punishment until the following morning. Willie returns to his cabin and finds a stack of letters and a package from his father; the package is a Bible, and a letter accompanying it suggests that Willie should read a specific passage about giving one's best in all work. When the escort arrives to take Willie to the admiral's party, Willie decides to skip the party and remain aboard the Caine.
The next morning Captain Queeg reports aboard the Caine.
Willie's inability to break off his relationship with May in person reveals that he is rather cowardly and non-confrontational. Willie's willingness to carry on with other women suggests that he is not interested in fully committing to May. However, Willie's refusal to accept the admiral's offer to remain in Hawaii at a staff position so that he might entertain at the admiral's parties suggests that his attitude toward his military duties is changing. Dr. Keith's letter foreshadows the trials Willie will face aboard the Caine. Willie's initial impression of the Caine and its crew underlines the loose approach to command held by de Vriess. Willie's initial assessment of de Vriess is an indication of how little he understands of military life and methods of command.