A dark and tragic novel, lightened by its ending; a great deal of violence and sexual content.
Note: Co-authored by Charles Nordhoff and James Norman Hall.
After leading the crew of the English ship Bounty in a mutiny and setting Captain Bligh adrift on the open sea, former first mate Fletcher Christian is faced with the magnitude of what he has done. Neither he nor the other mutineers can ever go back to England now, unless they want to be hanged; instead, they take refuge on a lonely island in the South Pacific: Pitcairn's Island. The English seamen and their Tahitian companions find the place an abandoned paradise, but the conflict between whites and Indians soon brings tragedy.
Nonexistent at worst, pragmatic at best. Of the men and women who come to Pitcairn's, not one has a solid and biblical foundation, and it quickly shows. Of course to start with there is the matter of the mutiny itself, which Christian and his more intelligent companions recognize in retrospect to have been wrong. He and other mutineers lose a sleep wondering if Bligh and his loyal seamen made it to safety. Also, knowing that he has brought so much trouble on the co-mutineers and destroyed their chances of seeing England again, Christian devotes his life to making amends as much as possible.
White sailors and their Tahitian companions alike bring just about every sort of vice to Pitcairn's Island with them: prejudice, greed, sloth, gluttony, lust, and all the rest. These escalate into murders, adulteries, and drunken orgies. (See content boxes below.)
On the positive side, Christian and other white men show respect toward the Indians and, while recognizing their differences in worldview, accept them as equals. Christian attempts to ensure that equity is preserved. The new inhabitants of Pitcairn's Island frequently show great friendship and generosity toward one another, while at other times harboring grudges and violent hatred.
The Tahitians hold to a polytheistic religion; on Pitcairn's they build a temple and several of their rituals, including a chant to wake and ask a blessing of a god, are recounted. The women believe in evil spirits and live in terror of the newly dead. At funerals, one of their rites involves gashing themselves with stones and wailing.
The white seamen do not believe much of anything; Christian brought with him a Bible, but has no interest in its teachings. At one point he does read a passage out of it concerning God visiting the iniquities of the fathers upon their sons. When discussing whether or not to educate the children born on Pitcairn's, he argues that they should be brought up under the Tahitian religion. His basis for this is that it would only confuse them to learn otherwise, and that the god of the Tahitians and the white men is the same, anyhow.
Later on, after many tragedies and much loss of life, one character does seem to come to a knowledge of Christ and salvation. He subsequently leads the others to the faith as well, though he states that he did not bother teaching the children about sin, because they would not understand it (showing no understanding of total depravity). His account of his coming to faith is moving and, to all appearances, genuine.
Some references to the mutiny, in which several seamen wished to kill Captain Bligh outright. On Pitcairn's itself there are numerous deaths, most bloody and graphic. A woman falls from a cliff to her death (she may have committed suicide or been pushed; it is never made clear). Two men are poisoned and the murderess is never punished, there being no proof. One man is known to become violent when drunk; several men are said to beat their wives, and other women as well. Threats are exchanged between whites and Indians, most of which are not carried out. The women especially hold deep grudges and seek revenge, but are restrained by their companions.
Toward the middle of the book, a fight of nightmarish quality occurs on the island. Men are decapitated; their heads and bodies are later seen and referenced. Several men are shot and some die from their wounds. One man, though completely harmless, is shot in cold blood. Even if the descriptions were not semi-graphic, the murderous hide-and-seek across Pitcairn's Island would still be disturbing.
An extreme alcoholic throws himself off a cliff and dies. A man who has lost his mind eats raw animals and attacks women and children; he is later shot for the protection of the settlement. At least two instances of rape are pretty clearly implied. None of the violence is what one would call "lightly" handled, and there is a great deal of it.
Drug and Alcohol Content
While the grog from the Bounty is meant to be rationed so as to last for months, several men discover a stash of bottles and drink themselves riotous. One character sets up a still on the island and descends into alcoholism. Toward the end of the book, other characters, including women, join in and the settlement becomes a site of drunkenness and loose living (many of the women withdraw to another part of the island). One character is known to grow violent when drunk. A man dies from his alcoholism. Another man struggles to stop drinking and does eventually conquer his addiction.
Women do not wear upper-body coverings, and their forms are described in several instances; there are also several descriptions of women nursing. Each of the mutineers from the Bounty brings a Tahitian woman with him to Tahiti. Most of these are, in essence, common-law wives; only Fletcher Christian actually had a marriage ceremony with his, Maimiti. Of the other men, at least one has a wife back in England. He shows no compunction about "re-marrying" now that he will never see her again.
Much is made of the fact that two of the Tahitians did not bring wives, and trouble is expected (and results). Most of the former seamen lead loose lives, some coveting each other's spouses; several of the women are willing to follow along. At one point a "married" woman becomes involved in a drunken revel and performs an indecent dance for several men. A man conducts an adulterous affair; the woman, whose husband is also a philanderer, eventually comes to be his "wife." (Again, these are loose terms.) At least one man refers crudely to relations with his wife; the women talk to one another about their husbands. Later in the book, after many tragedies, the remaining men in the settlement descend into alcoholism and lead openly loose lives with several of the women; the more honorable women leave and set up a separate community. The narrator mentions regretfully that many of the children's fathers are unknown.
By Tahitian custom, husbands may essentially "loan" their wives to men who are unmarried themselves. The women discuss this and several intend to carry out this practice secretly (it is unclear whether they do). When the number of men in the community dwindles, the remaining become "husbands" to the rest of the women, in order not to deprive the community of more children.
Crude or Profane Language or Content
The white men swear a good deal, especially the sailors. "D*mn" and variations of the same are frequently used; God's name is taken in vain by just about everyone. Some of the seamen call the Indians by derogatory names, including "dogs"; the Indians, for their part, retaliate in scorn.
As a conclusion to the "Mutiny on the Bounty" trilogy, "Pitcairn's Island" is, from page one up until almost the end, a tragedy. Fletcher Christian is haunted by his rash decision to mutiny, haunted by his near-murder of Captain Bligh, and haunted by the realization that he has taken away any chance of the white men leading "normal" lives. On Pitcairn's, the dreams he does have for a happy community quickly turn into a nightmare as bigotry takes hold. There are few things cheering about the first ninety percent of the novel, unless it be Christian's loving relationship with his wife, Maimiti. Perhaps it is not unreasonable to say, judging from only semi-historical accounts, that the true victims of the mutiny on the Bounty were the mutineers rather than Bligh.
However, the book does not end on a dismal note; after tragedy upon tragedy, and just about every evil one can imagine, hope does come to Pitcairn's Island. The novel is by no means light, nor entirely uplifting, and many sections are troubling to read. While the ending does not wholly relieve that darkness, it does lend it some light.
All in all, this novel needs a mature reader and its stand-alone values are very poor; but it can be worthwhile as a conclusion to the story of Fletcher Christian, the men who followed him, and the most famous mutiny in naval history.