Within the past 24 hours, Van Weyden has seen brutality on board the ship that has spread like a disease. The violence comes to a head when the sailor Johnson (not the new mate Johansen) gets into a physical fight with Wolf Larsen. Wolf Larsen easily defeats Johnson, and the violence becomes too much for Van Weyden to watch. Nevertheless, Wolf Larsen forces Van Weyden to watch while he and the mate Johansen continue to beat Johnson.
Johnson is so bloody that he’s almost unrecognizable. The cabin boy Leach does what he can to treat Johnson’s wounds. Leach gets angry at Wolf Larsen, becoming surprisingly forceful. Wolf Larsen doesn’t respond, then Mugridge jumps in and starts taunting Leach. Leach responds by beating Mugridge harshly.
This passage demonstrates how cycles of violence begin. Mugridge was not involved in the conflict initially, but he gets drawn into it, nevertheless. On the Ghost, violence spreads as easily as an infectious disease.
Other sailors also pick fights with each other throughout the day. Van Weyden begins to fear that the brutality will have a negative effect on him, particularly since he found himself actually enjoying the beating of Mugridge.
That Mugridge’s beating amuses Van Weyden suggests that Van Weyden is becoming more accustomed to life on the ship; he’s now as desensitized to violence as the other sailors.