"The True Confessions of Charlotte Doyle" Summary with Key Concepts

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Before: Prim & Proper

In the novel True Confessions of Charlotte Doyle, the heroine Charlotte has to grow up quickly in the summer of the year 1832. In the beginning of the story, she is a proper young lady in England seeking passage to the other side of the Atlantic Ocean on a ship. She has been attending the very proper school, Barrington School for Better Girls in England. Her destination is Rhode Island in America to be with her family. The plan is for her to cross the Atlantic with two families on a merchant ship that her father’s firm owns.

Charlotte has an upper-middle class upbringing and has been very sheltered for much of her life. She is 13-years-old and is very naive. The families who were supposed to travel with her never arrive, and she is the only female journeying on the Seahawk. At the onset of the voyage, she feels very lonely and unsure of herself. The reader quickly finds out that this young lady will be tried for murder. To find our for what, you have to keep reading.

Zachariah, an older black sailor and cook, offers her a dirk (a knife) when she first arrives and tells her that she needs a friend. This is quite unsettling for Ms. Doyle and puts her on edge. The rest of the crew from Charlotte’s description look like they were “men recruited from the doormat of hell.” Captain Jaggery first seems to be quite the gentleman, appears quite different from his crew, and reminds her of her father. He is clean shaven and well dressed. She believes she can trust him.

After: Brave Adventurer

As the voyage continues, Charlotte finds a round-robin, which is a pact to rebel against the captain or a mutiny. She ends up telling the captain what she finds because she trusts him. However, the captain takes vengeance against the crew and kills Cranick, who was a stowaway. He also whips Zachariah until he faints. Charolette believes Zachariah to be dead.

Charlotte feels badly about the crew losing a hand, so she decides to help them with their tasks. She proves herself by climbing the highest mast of the ship. The captain is furious about her change, makes her stay in the forecastle and begins calling her Mr. Doyle.

A hurricane is brewing at sea. During the storm, First Mate, Mr. Hollybrass is killed with the knife that Zachariah gave Charlotte earlier. Charlotte is tried for the murder and found guilty by Captain Jaggery. When she is to be hung, the captain falls and dies. The crew names her the new captain. However, it turns out that Zachariah was not killed during the whipping, and he does all the work of the captain.

When she arrives home, she puts back on her “lady” clothes and meets her family. Her father burns her diary of the voyage and the truth when Charlotte tries to tell her father about the captain. She secretly writes it again. In the end, she decides that she will be very unhappy on land and returns to be a crew member on the high seas.

Discussion Topics for Charlotte Doyle

This novel offers quite a bit of action with a dynamic female protagonist. This novel can easily be read by middle school students. However, it can be enjoyed by any age. The following are discussion ideas:

  • Students can discuss the differences in the way that women are treated now to the 1800’s. Charlotte starts out as a perfect young lady and learns how to act and work like sailor on the high seas. This was not “proper” for a young lady of the times.
  • The story takes place during the start of the Industrial Revolution in America. Students can research the time period and discuss how the story relates to this historic time period.
  • Captain Jaggery looks one way and acts another. How does this affect the plot?
  • There are dynamic characters, flat characters, static characters and round characters. Have the students discuss which characters are which.

This post is part of the series: True Confessions of Charlotte Doyle

The following are study guides, lessons, or activities that relate to the novel, the True Confessions of Charlotte Doyle.

  1. Book Summary: “The True Confessions of Charlotte Doyle”
  2. Symbolism in Charlotte Doyle
  3. Creating a Plot Diagram for Charlotte Doyle
  4. A Practice Quiz on Charlotte Doyle