Back in the forecastle, Yank and his coworkers have just come back from dinner. Everyone except Yank has washed the dirt and coal dust from their faces, so that now he stands out as a “blackened, brooding figure.” As the stokers yell raucously amongst themselves, Yank sits by himself in the position of Rodin’s “The Thinker,” and his peers talk about how he didn’t eat anything at dinner or wash his face. “Aw say, youse guys, Lemme alone. Can’t youse see I’m tryin’ to tink?” he says, at which point everybody laughs and repeats the word, “Think!” “Yes, tink!” he replies. “Tink, dat’s what I said! What about it!”
Yet again, Yank’s surrounding social context reveals itself to be unfit for intellectual thought. When his coworkers laugh at him for trying to “think,” the audience sees just how difficult it is for him to engage in the life of the mind, since the world of the stokehole rewards aggressive, macho behavior instead of thoughtfulness.
Slyly, Paddy suggests that he knows what’s bothering Yank. “’Tis aisy to see. He’s fallen in love, I’m telling you,” he says. Once again, the stokers laugh and repeat the word, saying, “Love!” Yank corrects Paddy by saying that he’s fallen in “hate,” not love. “’Twould take a wise man to tell one from the other,” Paddy remarks. “But I’m telling you it’s love that’s in it. Sure what else but love for us poor bastes in the stokehole would be bringing a fine lady, dressed like a white quane, down a mile of ladders and steps to be havin’ a look at us?” This elicits howls of anger from the stokers, and Long jumps onto a bench and says. “Hinsultin’ us! Hinsultin’ us, the bloody cow! And them bloody engineers! What right ’as they got to be exhibitin’ us ’s if we was bleedin’ monkeys in a menagerie?”
Paddy’s suggestion that Yank has fallen in love is a strange one that he doesn’t quite explain. After all, it’s rather clear that Yank isn’t in love with Mildred. As such, the audience senses that Paddy is simply trying to draw Yank out of himself by aggravating him. In this way, he prepares Yank to hear what Long says about the voyeuristic nature of Mildred’s visit. By destabilizing Yank’s conception of what happened in the stokehole, Paddy and Long force him to admit that his existence as a laborer is not quite as glorious as he previously believed.
Inciting anger amongst his peers, Long says that he knows why Mildred came down to the stokehole. “I arsked a deck steward ’o she was and ’e told me. ’Er old man’s a bleedin’ millionaire, a bloody Capitalist!” Going on, Long says that Mildred’s father makes half the steel in the world and owns the ocean liner. “And you and me, Comrades, we’re ’is slaves!” he adds. Hardly believing his ears, Yank asks if this is true, and Long confirms that it is and asks what Yank’s going to do about it. “Are we got ter swaller ’er hinsults like dogs?” he asks. “It ain’t in the ship’s articles. I tell yer we got a case. We kin go to law—” Interrupting Long, Yank scoffs at this idea, saying, “Hell! Law!” Echoing this sentiment, the other stokers laugh and repeat him, saying, “Law!”
Although Yank recognizes the injustice about which Long is speaking, he doesn’t allow himself to fully embrace the idea that the “law” will do anything to help his situation. This is perhaps because he understands that he is not in a position of power. Ironically, though, this is exactly the mentality that ensures that he will remain powerless in the face of his oppressors. Nonetheless, he scoffs at Long’s idea, making fun of him for investing in anything other than brute force and aggression—the only ways that Yank himself knows how to respond to adversity.
Long insists that he and his coworkers have rights as “voters and citizens,” but the stokers only disparage these thoughts, so he says, “We’re free and equal in the sight of God.” To this, Yank says, “Hell! God!” Once again, the stokers repeat him with cynical delight until Long backs away and Paddy continues as if he hasn’t been interrupted, saying, “And there she was standing behind us, and the Second pointing at us like a man you’d hear in a circus would be saying: In this cage is a queerer kind of baboon than ever you’d find in darkest Africy. We roast them in their own sweat—and be damned if you won’t hear some of thim saying they like it!” Saying this, he glances accusingly at Yank and says that Mildred looked at him “as if she’d seen a great hairy ape escaped from the Zoo.”
Paddy and Long both want Yank to acknowledge the sad reality of his own life, but their approaches differ when it comes to how they push him toward introspection. Long, for his part, uses political theories to awaken Yank’s ability to recognize the ways in which class disparity influences his life. By contrast, Paddy’s technique is more personal, as he calls upon Yank’s vanity. Indeed, he suggests that Mildred looked at Yank like “a great hairy ape,” knowing that this will surely enrage Yank, who is proud of his identity as a stoker and therefore prone to defending his honor.
“I’ll brain her!” Yank yells, “I’ll brain her yet, wait ’n’ see!” He then slowly walks toward Paddy and says, “Say, is dat what she called me—a hairy ape?” In response, Paddy tells him, “She looked it at you if she didn’t say the word itself,” and this prompts Yank to state for all to hear that he will take his revenge on Mildred. “I’ll show her I’m better’n her, if she on’y knew it,” he says. “I belong and she don’t, see! I move and she’s dead!” He then vows to “fix” her if he sees her again, but Paddy assures him she won’t return to the stokehole, so he rushes toward the door, saying he’ll go above deck and “bust de face offen her.” At this point, his fellow stokers pile atop him, stopping him from leaving the forecastle and getting murdered.
Yank responds to the idea that Mildred thinks he’s a “hairy ape” in the exact manner one might expect from a man who is overly proud of his identity. Interestingly enough, his vehemence in this moment suggests that he doesn’t have a very strong sense of self—otherwise, he wouldn’t feel the need to defend his honor so aggressively. Nonetheless, he screams that he “belong[s]” and that Mildred doesn’t, a strange assertion that underlines his desire to be accepted. Of course, it’s true that he “belong[s]” in the stokehole—where his peers celebrate him—but he oddly wants to leave this environment in order to take revenge, thereby leaving behind the only place where he truly fits in.