58 pages 1 hour read

Patrick O'Brian

Master and Commander

Fiction | Novel | Adult | Published in 1969

A modern alternative to SparkNotes and CliffsNotes, SuperSummary offers high-quality Study Guides with detailed chapter summaries and analysis of major themes, characters, and more.

Symbols & Motifs

The Ship

The ship in Master and Commander symbolically represents a living being. The Sophie is a little world, a microcosm of larger society, often compared to a single living organism or a colony of animals. Aubrey often thinks of the Sophie as a living creature, personifying the parts of the ship whenever he takes the tiller. When he watches her sailing from the shore, he feels a bond with the ship, realizing “he had had no idea how deeply he felt about his sloop: he [knows] exactly how she [will move] in—the particular creak of her mainyard in its parrel, the whisper of her rudder magnified by the sounding-board of her stern” (221). The common nautical practice of referring to ships with a feminine pronoun increases the sense of the Sophie as a living organism.

Other passages denote how the ship functions as an interconnected community, bonding all of the crew together into one unit. When the officers feel overwhelmed and sad, it impacts the other crew members as well:

[T]he Sophie was already so very much of a community that every man aboard was conscious of something out of joint […] the gloom on the quarter-deck seeped forward, reaching as far as the goat-house, the manger, and even the hawse-holes themselves (258).