Literature: The True Confessions of Charlotte Doyle

The True Confessions of Charlotte Doyle is a Newbery Award-winning young adult novel of historical fiction written by Avi and published in 1990.

Charlotte Doyle, a thirteen-year-old girl brought up in upper-class society in 19th century England, leaves her boarding school at the beginning of summer in order to return to her family in America, voyaging aboard the ship The Seahawk. However, she finds that she is the only passenger on the ship, due to the other passengers having been told that the voyage would be too dangerous, and the only female besides. She befriends the elderly sailor Zachariah, who warns her of the cruelty of the ship's captain, Captain Jaggery. Eventually Charlotte is caught up in a plot of mutiny against the captain and is forced to question her loyalties and learn about the hardships of life at sea.

This book contains examples of the following tropes:

  • Bad Boss: Captain Jaggery, in spades. He works the crew to the bone at all hours even when there's no need, savagely beats and mutilates them over the smallest mistakes (beat Cranick's arm so savagely it had to be amputated because he apparently didn't tie a knot to his liking, and singled out Zachariah to be flogged seemingly to death because he was old, feeble, black, and Charlotte's friend), and later outright murdered Hollybrass for disagreeing with him.
  • Black Dude Dies First: Inverted - three white men die, while Zachariah, a black man, is thought to be dead, but it's later revealed he faked it.
  • Death by Newbery Medal: One person is thought to be dead, while three other people die for real.
  • Deliberate Values Dissonance: Charlotte consorting with the crew and doing crewman's work is seen as unnatural for a proper English lady of her time period.
  • Disney Villain Death: Captain Jaggery falls to his death from the bowsprit after cornering Charlotte up there in an attempt to kill her.
  • Faking the Dead: Zachariah is thought to have been killed by the captain, but was merely hiding out.
  • Fish out of Water: Charlotte is originally this, which leads to...
  • Going Native: After Charlotte sees how cruel the captain really is, she eventually sides with the crew, and ends up becoming one of them.
  • Intergenerational Friendship: Charlotte is 13, while Zachariah is in at least his 60s.
  • I Choose to Stay: After going home to her family, Charlotte decides that she is now more befitting of the life of a sailor and runs away to hop the next ship out of port.
  • Jackie Robinson Story: Charlotte proves herself to the crew and is eventually accepted as one of them.
  • The Mutiny
  • Politically Incorrect Villain: Captain Jaggery, although granted it is 1832.
  • Proper Lady: What Charlotte was when she first went to sea...
  • Spirited Young Lady: ...only to metamorphose into this.
  • Stranger in a Familiar Land: Charlotte, after she returns to her family and finds that she doesn't fit in any more and longs for the freedom of the life of a sailor.
  • Sweet Polly Oliver: After Charlotte joins the crew, she begins to dress as one of them.
  • A Taste of the Lash: Zachariah is flogged for treason after the mutiny is discovered and curtailed by the captain.
  • Upper-Class Twit: Charlotte at the beginning of the novel.
  • Wooden Ships and Iron Men
  • Villain with Good Publicity: Jaggery.
  • You Make Me Sic: Charlotte writes everything that happens to her on the Seahawk in her diary, which her father reads. This leads to a long lecture about telling lies about the captain, consorting with common sailors, and generally being unladylike and immoral, ending with: "and the spelling, Charlotte. The spelling!"


Alternative Title(s):

The True Confessions Of Charlotte Doyle