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The Cabin Boy

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A young crew member aboard a ship, typically one who runs errands for the captain.

This trope has been Launched!
Proposed By:
BiggerBen on May 15th 2018 at 2:03:35 PM
Last Edited By:
BiggerBen on Dec 10th 2018 at 12:11:01 PM
Name Space: Main
Page Type: trope

A cabin boy is a crew member on a ship, almost always the youngest person aboard, who waits and performs various errands on a ship, such as relaying messages, carrying buckets of food across the ship, scrubbing the deck, and keeping the wheel steady during good weather. They're typically at the very bottom of the ranks on a ship.

In stories, the cabin boy tends to be either a preteen or a young teenager, though they can sometimes be in their late teens or a young man. Either way, they're far younger than the rest of the crew. In a story set at sea, if the cabin boy's not the protagonist, they'll usually be a Tagalong Kid of sorts. If they're a cabin boy to a pirate ship, they'll generally be the least villainous one aboard, as Children Are Innocent.

Almost Always Male. Even in the days of fiction where females can be seen in various roles on a ship, such as captain, first mate, navigator, etc, you're unlikely to see a cabin girl anytime soon (or at least not an openly female one. There's the occasional Sweet Polly Oliver posing as a cabin boy).


Examples

Anime and Manga

  • One Piece
    • Coby used to be the cabin boy of Alvida's pirate group until he opted out and joins the Marines. There, he starts again as a cabin boy, along with his friend Helmeppo, until some time later (after training with Vice Admiral Garp) they become proper Marine officers.
    • Shanks and Buggy, 2 pirates, used to be cabin boys for the legendary pirate crew, the Jolly Roger Pirates.

Comic Books

Film - Animated

  • Disney's animated feature Treasure Planet adapts the Robert Louis Stevenson novel Treasure Island and updates it to a Schizo Tech future where the story is Recycled In Space. The primary protagonist is Jim Hawkins, a dissolute youth who gets the Call to Adventure to find the fabled booty hoard of pirate Nathaniel Flint. Under the wing of Professor Delbert Doppler, Jim comes aboard the RLS Legacy as a cabin boy. While Jim initially chafes at the idea, the lack of options while shipboard compels him to resign himself to the drudgery. Fortunately, Jim develops a knack for the work. Notably, The Dragon Scroop likes to mock Jim with the term "cabin boy."

Film - Live-Action

  • Cabin Boy is about a foppish "Fancy Lad" who mistakenly boards a fishing boat ran by filthy, foul-mouthed sailors who make him their cabin boy.

Literature

  • In Treasure Island, narrator Jim Hawkings serves as the cabin boy on Captain Smollett's ship.
  • Rudyard Kipling wrote Captains Courageous in 1897, centering on Harvey Cheyne, Junior, a Royal Brat at age 15. He tumbles overboard during an Atlantic voyage, and gets rescued by a Portuguese fishing boat. Although the boat already has a boy aboard to handle the drudgery duties, and despite Harvey's thorny pomposity, the fishermen allow Harvey to serve aboard as apprentice cabin boy. Life at sea for months results in a slow but steady Character Development, to the point where Harvey becomes the Captain's accountant.
  • He's not explicitly called one, but Pip in Moby-Dick serves a similar role on the ship. At one point, he ends up adrift in the ocean for hours, and is mentally unbalanced by the time he's rescued. Captain Ahab takes a liking to him after that, enjoying spending them with somebody as mad as he himself is.
  • In the Liaden Universe novels, Gordy Arbuthnot serves as cabin boy on his cousin's trade ship until he's old enough to formally sign on as an apprentice trader.
  • In the Poe novel The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym of Nantucket, the heroes are lost and running out of food. They eventually decide to draw lots to decide who to cannibalize, and the one chosen ends up being an unfortunate cabin boy named Richard Parker. This led to an eerie coincidence when later in real life a starving crew decide to kill and eat their cabin boy, who happened to be named Richard Parker.
  • The background for a minor character in the Safehold series was that his Harchongian father was sold to a pirate captain as a "cabin boy", and eventually rescued after the pirate attacked the wrong ship. (Since the term was put in quotation marks in the novel, it's likely the duties weren't the usual ones.)

Video Games

  • In Grabbed by the Ghoulies, a minor enemy is an imp with a sailor cap named Roger the Cabin Boy. Apparently, he's actually old enough to have been two days from retirement.

Western Animation

Feedback: 14 replies

May 15th 2018 at 6:03:24 PM

  • One Piece
    • Coby used to be the cabin boy of Alvida's pirate group until he opted out and joins the Marines. There, he starts again as a cabin boy, along with his friend Helmeppo, until some time later (after training with Vice Admiral Garp) they become proper Marine officers.
    • Shanks and Buggy, 2 pirates, used to be cabin boys for the legendary pirate crew, the Jolly Roger Pirates.

May 16th 2018 at 1:53:00 AM

  • De-capitalized (Cabin Boy).
  • Corrected spelling (crewmember).
  • Corrected punctuation (added periods at the ends of sentences).
  • Created Examples section.

May 16th 2018 at 5:13:55 PM

Literature

  • Rudyard Kipling wrote Captains Courageous in 1897, centering on Harvey Cheyne, Junior, a Royal Brat at age 15. He tumbles overboard during an Atlantic voyage, and gets rescued by a Portuguese fishing boat. Although the boat already has a boy aboard to handle the drudgery duties, and despite Harvey's thorny pomposity, the fishermen allow Harvey to serve aboard as apprentice cabin boy. Life at sea for months results in a slow but steady Character Development, to the point where Harvey becomes the Captain's accountant.

Film Animated

  • Disney's animated feature Treasure Planet adapts the Robert Louis Stevenson novel Treasure Island and updates it to a Schizo Tech future where the story is Recycled In Space. The primary protagonist is Jim Hawkins, a dissolute youth who gets the Call To Adventure to find the fabled booty hoard of pirate Nathaniel Flint. Under the wing of Professor Delbert Doppler, Jim comes aboard the RLS Legacy as a cabin boy. While Jim initially chafes at the idea, the lack of options while shipboard compels him to resign himself to the drudgery. Fortunately, Jim develops a knack for the work. Notably, The Dragon Scroop likes to mock Jim with the term "cabin boy."

May 17th 2018 at 3:30:27 AM

Literature:

  • In the Liaden Universe novels, Gordy Arbuthnot serves as cabin boy on his cousin's trade ship until he's old enough to formally sign on as an apprentice trader.

Western Animation:

May 17th 2018 at 3:34:26 AM

Comic Books:

May 17th 2018 at 4:37:00 PM

Film - Live-Action

  • Cabin Boy is about a foppish "Fancy Lad" who mistakenly boards a fishing boat ran by filthy, foul-mouthed sailors who make him their cabin boy.

May 28th 2018 at 9:56:11 PM

  • Examples section
    • Namespaced work names. Warning: failure to do this this can result in being suspended from editing.
    • Italicized work names as per How To Write An Example - Emphasis For Work Names.

May 29th 2018 at 5:22:50 PM

How is this different from Plucky Middie? Is "Cabin Boy" a sister trope referring to youngsters on civilian ships as opposed to military ones? If so, Plucky Middie needs to be referenced in the description.

May 30th 2018 at 5:48:30 AM

^ Plucky Middie covers apprentice naval officers, who are above the rank of common sailors. "Midshipmen...regardless of age were treated as officers by the rest of the crew".

This is a character who is (from the Description) "...typically at the very bottom of the ranks on a ship", so they're below a sailor in rank.

Jul 22nd 2018 at 4:53:02 PM

Oh man. I have an example for this one... Gender inverted... however, it is a work of my own, and I am not ready to post anything about it.

Dec 8th 2018 at 10:44:30 PM

^ Out of curiosity, what's it about?

Dec 9th 2018 at 1:36:49 PM

The background for a minor character in the Safehold series was that his Harchongian father was sold to a pirate captain as a "cabin boy", and eventually rescued after the pirate attacked the wrong ship. (Since the term was put in quotation marks in the novel, it's likely the duties weren't the usual ones.)

Dec 9th 2018 at 3:27:47 PM

  • The Navy Lark According to CPO Pertwee, the very first member of the The Pertwee Family to serve in the Royal Navy was a powder monkey (a term for a young boy aged between 9-14 years old who would haul gunpowder from stores to fighting deck in the Age Of Sail) on HMS Victory at the Battle of Trafalgar.

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