The Mutiny on the Bounty By Charles Nordhoff and James Hall Summary and Analysis Chapters 5-7

Summary

Having traveled more than twenty-seven thousand miles, the Bounty finally drops anchor in Matavai Bay. Many canoes from the island sail out to meet the ship, and Bligh advises Byam to choose a highly placed Tahitian as his taio, or friend, so that Byam can have the best possible help as he compiles his dictionary. Byam chooses Hitihiti, a chieftain, as his taio, and Hitihiti accepts the offer. Then the chieftain asks Bligh where Captain Cook is. Bligh lies, telling him that he (Bligh) is the son of Captain Cook, and he refrains from adding that Cook is dead. Later, Bligh instructs the Bounty's crew never to mention Cook's death.

Hitihiti takes Byam to his house on Tahiti, a magnificent building sixty feet long by twenty feet wide, with a floor of fresh white coral sand, spread with mats. We meet Hitihiti's daughter, Hina, a woman of grace and beauty; Maimiti, niece of Hitihiti; and Hina's husband. Byam eats a meal of baked fish, pork, bananas, and coconut pudding with his host before falling asleep on the mats.

Next day, Byam begins to formulate the dictionary and discovers the many rich intricacies of the Tahitian language. Hitihiti and his household generously help Byam in his task, and Byam reports weekly to Bligh aboard the Bounty concerning the progress made. Bligh orders a large tent pitched on the island to shelter the breadfruit trees which Mr. Nelson and his assistants are gathering. Discipline on board the Bounty is relaxed, and the men are frequently allowed to go ashore for pleasure.

Christian, Peckover (the gunner) and Huggan (the surgeon) join Byam on the island one day, and later, Christian, Hina, Maimiti, and Byam go for a swim. Christian is greatly attracted to Maimiti, and walking back to Hitihiti's house, they hold hands. Christian continues to visit Maimiti on the island and soon is accepted by Hitihiti's household as her lover.

Through Christian, Byam learns that the surgeon died after eating a poisonous fish. He is buried on the island, but not before Nelson, Peckover, and Byam have one final drink by his grave in his memory.

It is not long before discipline on board the Bounty becomes less lax. Each man is required, on boarding the ship, to give up whatever gifts he has received from his taio. The gifts are to be disposed of as the captain sees fit. Despite the fact that many hogs are in the hold below, the men are still rationed a small portion of stale pork by Mr. Samuel.

At the gangway, Christian is ready to board the ship carrying hogs, fine mats, Indian cloths, and a pair of pearls. Bligh orders Christian to give the gifts to Mr. Samuel. Christian hesitantly does so but refuses to relinquish the pearls. Then he goes below deck with the pearls, and nothing more is said.

The crew begins mumbling in their ranks about the harsh conditions on board the ship and also about Bligh's refusal to increase their allowance of food. Upon boarding the Bounty for his weekly report to Bligh, Byam learns that William Muspratt and John Millward, both able seamen, and Charles Churchill, the master-at-arms, have deserted. Bligh orders Byam and some of the other men to search for the deserters in one of Hitihiti's canoes. Hitihiti and a dozen of his men accompany Byam, but the search is futile, so the expedition stops at Rimatuu, an islet, for the night. While there, they attend a ceremony held by the local Indians, and Byam notices a lovely woman and asks who she is. Hitihiti tells Byam that her name is Tehani and that she is a descendant of great ancestry. Spellbound, Byam watches her throughout the entire ceremony.

Upon returning to the Bounty the next day, Byam informs Captain Bligh that the three deserters cannot be found. Three weeks later, however, they give themselves up and are punished: Churchill receives two dozen lashes, and Muspratt and Millward get four dozen each.

The crew learns that the Bounty is ready to set sail, and, not surprisingly, those who have formed relationships with women on the island are troubled and melancholy. As scheduled, the Bounty sails for the West Indies with the breadfruit trees stored in the great cabin, leaving Tahiti in their wake.

Analysis

These chapters present an idyllic interlude on the beautiful South Sea island of Tahiti, often referred to both in the novel and in real life as a "paradise on earth." The contrast between the severity of the ship and the beautiful serenity of the island life will make the conditions aboard ship even more precipitous. The acceptance of the men by the people of Tahiti lull the seamen into a life of peace and serenity, especially because most of the seamen are able to find a suitable woman to live with. The fact that some of the seamen become extremely attached to their Polynesian women is another motivating factor in the mutiny. Byam, of course, is allowed to indulge in total freedom in order to formulate his dictionary, and he becomes so proficient that he is convinced that he is the only white man who is able to speak the Tahitian language fluently. This talent, or facility, with the language will tempt him to return to these beautiful islands — even after he has been exonerated of all guilt in the court-martial before the Lord High Admiral of Great Britain.

Chapter 6 essentially gives a full description of the type of life and living conditions on the island; except for these facts, though, the chapter does not move the novel forward.

Chapter 7 renews the conflict between Christian and Bligh. During the interlude at Tahiti, Byam has come to know Christian much better and has developed an admiration for the man — partly because of Christian's becoming Maimiti's lover. Byam's admiration of Christian will allow Byam to more easily sympathize with Christian's unjust treatment, but it will not extend to Byam's joining Christian later during the mutiny.

The death of the surgeon, fondly called Old Bacchus after the classical god of wine, presents a foreboding note. Earlier, he was able to enliven the men's spirits; now, in his absence, the morale of the men on board ship will suffer. All of these minor occurrences will contribute to the mutiny later in the novel.

Captain Bligh's mean-spirited behavior, as well as his miserliness, are again illustrated in his demand that all items given by the natives to the crew must be placed under the captain's "protection." The men are rightly suspicious that their personal property will become Bligh's personal property; thus the men carry even more hatred and animosity toward Bligh. This animosity increases due to the fact that even while the Bounty is anchored on the island, Bligh still imposes ridiculous rationing on the men who are on duty aboard ship: "In the midst of plenty, and treated like smugglers each time they returned from shore," the men seethe with anger and resentment against Bligh. Each of these events is a stepping stone, leading to the mutiny.

Such scenes as midshipman Hallet's reporting on Ellison, when Ellison brings a suckling pig aboard, align Hallet with Bligh's faction, and, consequently, after the mutiny, even though Hallet will beg to remain on board the ship, the rest of the men will force him into Bligh's boat — partly because he is as hateful and spiteful as Bligh. Note particularly that our opinion of Hallet is colored by Byam when he calls Hallet "a little swine."

The episode of Christian's being requested to turn over all of his gifts, including the lovely pearls which Maimiti gave him as a gift for his mother, once again tests Christian's patience with the captain. His refusal to obey Bligh causes a serious breach in their relationship. At this point, Byam observes, "It was not hard to imagine the feelings of the Bounty's crew — rationed in the midst of plenty, and treated like smugglers each time they returned from shore. . . . It seemed to me that if Mr. Bligh continued as he had begun, we should soon have desertions or worse." With Byam expressing such obvious, communal feelings about Bligh, it would seem to the casual reader that he would be among those who would join a mutiny, but this is not to be the case.

The mutiny is further anticipated by the fact that three of the men — Churchill, Muspratt, and Millward — try to desert the ship while they are in Tahiti. This attempt attests to the dreadful conditions under Bligh and to the men's frustration. Even Byam is reluctant to leave Tahiti; he dreads the return trip under the command of Bligh.

Glossary

take a caulk go close your eyes and rest.

bole the stem or trunk of a tree.

siesta a mid-day nap.

ennui boredom.

outrigger a small South Pacific sailboat with a wooden float extending outboard from the side of the boat for added stability.

orthography spelling.

hundredweight a weight equivalent to 100 pounds in the U.S., 112 pounds in England.

a brace of a pair of, a couple.

a fashionable watering place a gathering place where drinking water is obtained; a spring.

two old duennas two old chaperones.

plantains tropical fruit resembling bananas.

Back to Top

Take the Quiz

At 17, which university was Roger expected to attend?




Quiz