High Wind in Jamaica Summary & Study Guide

Richard Hughes
This Study Guide consists of approximately 53 pages of chapter summaries, quotes, character analysis, themes, and more - everything you need to sharpen your knowledge of High Wind in Jamaica.
This section contains 983 words
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High Wind in Jamaica Summary & Study Guide Description

High Wind in Jamaica Summary & Study Guide includes comprehensive information and analysis to help you understand the book. This study guide contains the following sections:

This detailed literature summary also contains Quotes and a Free Quiz on High Wind in Jamaica by Richard Hughes.

The following version of this book was used to create this study guide: Hughes, Richard. A High Wind in Jamaica, 1929. New York Review of Books, 1999.

The unnamed narrator begins by describing the Gothic ruins of post-Emancipation Jamaica. In one of these homes lives the Bas-Thornton family. Their five young children, John, Emily, Rachel, Edward, and Laura, ran wild around the abandoned plantation. One day, on a visit to the neighboring Fernandez family, they experienced an earthquake that caused animals to go wild and the ocean to ebb back dramatically. Emily fantasized about telling this story to impressed audiences in England. Not long after, an even more powerful natural event befell the Bas-Thorntons: a hurricane. In the chaos, their cat was killed by wild cats and one of their black servants was struck by lightning. The family survived by hunkering down in their cellar. When they emerged, their home had been destroyed. The children’s parents decided that it would be safer for them to get an education in England, so they booked the children tickets on the ship Clorinda and said a tearful goodbye when they pulled out of the port. The children were delighted by the prospect of an adventure, and they were accompanied by two of the Fernandez children, slightly older Margaret and her brother Harry.

The Bas-Thornton parents settled back into their routine, but one day received a letter from the ship’s captain, Marpole. He reported that the ship had been beset by pirates who had killed the children wholesale. However, the captain had lied. After several happy weeks at sea, the ship was taken by a small boat of men, several disguised as women. The pirate captain Jonsen demanded Marpole give him all his money. When he refused, he threatened to shoot the children, and when this still did not convince Marpole, he threatened to burn the ship. With the money and loot in hand, Jonsen decided to take the children as well. Other than Margaret, the children did not understand that they had been kidnapped, and they bunked down in the pirate ship’s hold with no complaint. In the morning, the ship had landed at Santa Lucia in Cuba. The pirates held an auction of stolen goods that failed despite Jonsen’s best efforts to get the crowd drunk. That night, a pirate named José took them out into the town as a treat. They went to see a nativity play, and when John was messing about on the second floor, he fell and broke his neck. José whisked the children away before they could see what happened, and from then on they never spoke of their missing brother.

The pirate ship continued on, weathering storms and pursuing ships with no success. After one long chase Jonsen became lost, and they floated around looking for a sign of their location. Meanwhile, Emily suddenly became aware of herself as an autonomous physical being rather than a floating consciousness. This followed an incident where the drunk crew had come down into the hold late at night. When Jonsen had stroked her hair, she had bitten him. She felt guilty afterward, not understanding that she had acted in self-defense. While the other children became more and more comfortable onboard, playing as pirates or with strange dolls, she continued to be wary of Jonsen and he of her. However, when Rachel accidentally dropped a marline-spike that gouged Emily’s calf, Jonsen bound the wound and let her recover in his cabin.

Eventually the pirates stumbled on a small Dutch steamer. Using the younger children to appear harmless, they raided the ship, and were disappointed to find only a shipment circus animals. They then happily got drunk and tried to make the lion and tiger fight. The captain was thrown in the hold with still-wounded Emily. When he tried to free himself with a knife, she was seized by fear and stabbed him before he could escape. When he died, the pirates blamed Margaret for the misdeed, and threw her off the ship. However, she was rescued by another returning boat, though she was deeply traumatized by both this and ongoing sexual abuse by Otto. After this episode, the pirates became weary of the children’s antics, and Jonsen slapped Rachel when she tried to convert them all to Christianity. Jonsen grew paranoid that they would be caught with the children and punished for kidnapping, so when he saw a British steamer, he seized the chance to unload the children. They were sent off in a boat and instructed to say that they had been first kidnapped by pirates and then rescued by their current ship, which the pirates had cleverly fixed up to resemble a merchant schooner. The plan went off without a hitch until Emily told the true story to a shocked stewardess. The pirates celebrated, but because of Emily’s report they were captured soon afterward.

The children spent the rest of the journey to London telling elaborate stories of their experiences, and Emily grew especially fond of a young woman named Miss Dawson. When the ship made port, she took the children to their parents, who were thrilled to have them returned, though they grieved John. After exploring London, they were introduced to Mr. Mathias, a prosecutor who was trying to get the death penalty for the pirates. Along with her parents, he decided to have Emily memorize and read off a statement about her experiences in court. She dutifully did this, but when the defense asked her about the Dutch captain, she burst into tears and began rambling about the horror and blood. This was the nail in the coffin for the pirates, who were sentenced to hang on her misinterpreted words. Soon afterward, Emily was sent to boarding school, where you could not have told her from any other typical child.

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