Sailor's Life at Sea & A Little Poetry

Teacher Sample Answer Sheet

1. How does the recruiting poster portray the U.S. Navy?

The U.S. Navy is portrayed as a noble pursuit with the distinguished looking sailor in the foreground and one of the new battleships (USS South Carolina) in the background. The poster refers to the national memories of the Great White Fleet's cruise around the world. It is also promotes the Navy as an economically appealing career choice by emphasizing the pay and benefits specifically on the poster.

2.According to the poem, what was life like in the U.S. Navy for a rookie?

Life was filled with fire drills at night and sleeping on an unstable hammock. The ship experienced severe weather that might cause sea sickness for a new sailor who desperately longed to return to the life he knew on land. His day is filled with tasks, such as scrubbing the decks of the ship with sand and washing his own clothes.

3. Why is the poster's message different from the poem's description of life aboard a Navy ship?

The poster is used to convince people to join the U.S. Navy and so only the positive aspects of naval service are mentioned on the poster. The poem, writes of the realities facing a new recruit. The poster does not describe the intense work involved with keeping a ship clean and ready, nor the dangers of harsh weather or potential enemy fire.

4. Using both the poster and the poem, how is the sailor's life different at sea from a life on land?

For a rookie sailor, living in a self-contained ship presented the biggest change of lifestyle. These men no longer returned to their homes after a day's work, they merely moved from one part of the ship to another for work, rest, and recreation. At sea, he slept in an hammock strung from beams subject to the swaying of the ship rather than on a grounded feather bed. He ate different foods than he was used to eating on land. By advertising the pay rates and medical benefits, you can speculate that in the Navy, a sailor might earn a steady wage and potentially more money than if he remained a civilian.

Probably the most difficult change for new sailors was the daily absence of women. Unlike on land where women performed most domestic tasks inside homes, men cooked, cleaned, sewed, and scrubbed at sea.

5. What does this poem tell us about women's and men's roles around 1900?

The poem tells us that women typically performed domestic duties on land, such as washing clothes and cooking. It tells us that Navy men performed these tasks on board ship in the absence of women, and probably did not like that. Life at sea meant living contrary to contemporary gender roles in the United States that placed women in the home and men in a non-domestic working world. The fictitious rookie yearns for the gendered world of mainstream America where females washed his clothes and cooked his dinner.

While the rookie refers to the physical absence of women, men also missed the companionship and caring of their mothers, sisters, or wives.

6. How can a reader use this poem and poster as historical evidence when researching the America of a century ago? Why does the reader need to use caution when interpreting a poem or a recruiting poster?

Through the contrasts that are highlighted in both the poem and poster, the reader sees and hears about American everyday life. Gender roles and labor practices in the civilian world can be deduced by how life in the Navy differs, such as with male sailors washing their own clothes, but also getting medical benefits which a civilian worker would not have.

Note: Any reader needs to exercise caution when interpreting poetry or recruiting posters as historical evidence, since both aim to produce an emotional reaction and their meaning may be interpreted in many ways. For instance, this poem's author may be an experienced sailor poking fun at rookies by exaggerating his descriptions of the transition period. The poster is a form of advertising for the U.S. Navy, so their purpose was to attract as many eligible men as possible to join the Navy. The poster's representations of naval life will not include the hardships or any negative details of living on board a ship. Despite the cautions, both documents are useful in interpreting the past.