Call It Courage Summary

A. Brief overview of Armstrong Sperry, the author

Armstrong Sperry was an American author and illustrator, best known for his children’s books set in the Pacific. Born on November 7, 1897, in New Haven, Connecticut, Sperry developed a fascination with the sea and distant lands from his sea captain uncles. This fascination is evident in his works, which often feature maritime settings and adventures. His ability to weave engaging tales of courage and survival won him critical acclaim and the love of young readers worldwide.

B. Introduction to the novel “Call It Courage”

“Call It Courage” is a captivating novel written by Armstrong Sperry, published in 1940. The book, which won the Newbery Medal for excellence in American children’s literature in 1941, tells the story of a young Polynesian boy named Mafatu who embarks on a journey of self-discovery and courage. The novel is a thrilling adventure tale, but it’s also a profound exploration of fear, courage, survival, and the journey to manhood.

C. Brief discussion of the main themes of the novel (courage, self-discovery, survival, and coming-of-age)

The novel delves into several key themes. The theme of courage is at the heart of the story, with Mafatu’s journey symbolizing the courage it takes to face and overcome one’s fears. The theme of self-discovery is intertwined with the theme of courage, as Mafatu discovers his inner strength and potential through his adventurous journey. The survival theme is evident in Mafatu’s struggle to survive in a deserted island, using his ingenuity and resourcefulness. The coming-of-age theme is portrayed through Mafatu’s transformation from a fearful boy to a confident young man. These themes give the adventure story a deeper, more universal appeal.

II. Plot Summary

A. Introduction to the main character: Mafatu

The main character of “Call It Courage” is Mafatu, a young boy from the Polynesian island of Hikueru. Mafatu, whose name means “Stout Heart,” is the son of the tribal chief, but he carries a deep fear of the sea due to a traumatic incident in his early childhood when he lost his mother to a sea storm.

B. Setting of the novel: Polynesian islands and the Pacific Ocean

The novel is set in the South Pacific, primarily on the Polynesian island of Hikueru and a deserted island where Mafatu ends up during his journey. The vast Pacific Ocean with its capricious moods plays a significant role in the story, serving both as a source of fear and a path to self-discovery for Mafatu.

C. Mafatu’s fears and his decision to face them

Haunted by his fear of the sea, Mafatu feels like an outcast in his sea-faring community. His fear becomes a barrier to his acceptance as a member of his tribe and his transition to manhood. Finally, in a moment of courage, Mafatu decides to face his fears. He takes a canoe and sets out into the sea alone, thus beginning his incredible journey.

D. Description of Mafatu’s journey and his survival on a deserted island

Mafatu’s journey takes a dramatic turn when he is caught in a storm and washed ashore on a deserted island. Here, he must use his wits and the skills he learned in his community to survive. He learns to make weapons, build a shelter, and hunt for food. He also encounters various challenges, including a battle with a hammerhead shark and a tribal sacrifice site.

E. The transformation of Mafatu and his triumphant return to his home island

Through his experiences on the deserted island, Mafatu undergoes a significant transformation. He overcomes his fear of the sea, gains confidence in his abilities, and develops survival skills that make him self-reliant. After many moons on the island, Mafatu decides to return home. He returns as a changed person, no longer the fearful boy but a courageous young man. His triumphant return marks his transition into manhood, earning him the respect and acceptance of his tribe.

III. Character Analysis

A. Examination of Mafatu’s character: his fears, his determination, his survival skills, his transformation

Mafatu, the protagonist of the novel, is a well-rounded character who experiences significant growth throughout the story. Initially, he is portrayed as a fearful boy, haunted by the traumatic loss of his mother to the sea. However, underneath his fear, Mafatu possesses a strong determination to overcome his fears and earn his place within his tribe. His decision to face the sea alone marks the beginning of his transformation. As he survives on the deserted island, Mafatu develops essential survival skills, demonstrating resourcefulness, bravery, and resilience. These experiences shape him into a confident and courageous young man, marking his successful journey from fear to courage.

B. Overview of secondary characters: Mafatu’s father, Uri, Kivi, and other significant characters

Several secondary characters play important roles in Mafatu’s story. His father, the chief of their tribe, is a source of pressure for Mafatu to overcome his fear, but also a figure of respect and influence. Uri, Mafatu’s dog, is a loyal companion who accompanies Mafatu on his journey, providing comfort and companionship. Kivi, the albatross, is a character that Mafatu befriends on the island, who later plays a crucial role in helping Mafatu find his way back home. These characters add depth to the story and contribute to Mafatu’s growth and transformation.

IV. Themes and Symbolism

A. Exploration of the theme of courage: How it is portrayed through Mafatu’s journey

Courage is a central theme in “Call It Courage.” Mafatu’s entire journey is a testament to his courage – the courage to face his deepest fear, the courage to survive alone on a deserted island, and the courage to return home transformed. His actions and decisions throughout the novel, from deciding to embark on the journey to facing challenges on the island, depict the development of his courage.

B. Exploration of the theme of self-discovery: How Mafatu discovers his strength and overcomes his fears

Self-discovery is another significant theme in the novel. Mafatu’s journey is not only physical but also an emotional and psychological journey towards self-discovery. He discovers his inner strength, overcomes his fears, and realizes his potential during his time on the island. This process of self-discovery ultimately leads to his transformation from a fearful boy to a courageous young man.

C. Discussion on the theme of survival: The challenges faced by Mafatu and his survival skills

The theme of survival is intricately woven into the plot. Mafatu’s survival on the deserted island involves finding food, building shelter, making tools, and protecting himself from threats. These experiences highlight his resourcefulness, resilience, and adaptability, which are key to his survival and growth.

D. Analysis of the symbolism in the novel: The sea, the knife, the sacred idol, etc.

Symbolism is effectively used in the novel to enhance the themes and character development. The sea, which is a symbol of fear for Mafatu at the start of the story, transforms into a symbol of courage and self-discovery by the end. The knife, which Mafatu crafts on the island, symbolizes his survival skills and independence. The sacred idol he finds on the island represents the cultural beliefs and superstitions of his tribe, while also serving as a symbol of the challenges he must overcome. These symbols add depth and richness to the narrative.


A. Recap of the main points covered in the article

In this article, we have explored Armstrong Sperry’s “Call It Courage,” a novel that takes readers on an exciting journey of courage, self-discovery, and survival. We analyzed the main character, Mafatu, his fears, his transformation, and the significant themes and symbols in the novel. Mafatu’s journey from a fearful boy to a courageous young man forms the crux of the story, showcasing the strength of the human spirit in the face of adversity.

B. Personal thoughts and reflections on the novel

“Call It Courage” is a timeless tale that continues to inspire readers. The novel skillfully combines elements of adventure and introspection, making it a riveting read. It offers valuable lessons on courage, resilience, and the power of self-belief. Mafatu’s transformation serves as a powerful reminder that one can overcome their deepest fears and achieve great things through determination and bravery.

C. Brief discussion on the impact of the novel and its relevance to young readers today

“Call It Courage” holds a significant place in children’s literature. Its themes of courage, self-discovery, and survival are universal and timeless, making it relevant even to today’s young readers. The novel’s message that fear can be overcome and that every individual has a hidden strength within them is a powerful and inspiring lesson for children. It encourages them to face their fears and challenges and to believe in their potential, making it a highly impactful and meaningful read.

Tanzeela Farooq

Tanzeela, with a professional degree in Writing and Humanities, is a passionate book reader and writer. She specialises in creating comprehensive book summaries that distil complex narratives into insightful, digestible content. Her writings reflect her deep understanding of literature and are marked by their clarity and engagement. Join her literary journey for concise book summaries and enlightening discourse.

Leave a Reply