Hero, Captain, and Stranger: Male Friendship, Social Critique, and Literary Form in the Sea Novels of Herman Melville

Hero, Captain, and Stranger: Male Friendship, Social Critique, and Literary Form in the Sea Novels of Herman Melville

Hero, Captain, and Stranger: Male Friendship, Social Critique, and Literary Form in the Sea Novels of Herman Melville

Hero, Captain, and Stranger: Male Friendship, Social Critique, and Literary Form in the Sea Novels of Herman Melville

Synopsis

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Excerpt

The purpose of this book is to study the significance of a controlling structural pattern through several works of Herman Melville. That pattern can be expressed most simply as the encounter of, and conflict among, three fundamental characters: the Hero, the Dark Stranger, and the Captain. It is my contention that this encounter is at the base of works otherwise as different as Typee, Redburn, White-Jacket, Moby-Dick, and Billy Budd. Although elements of the pattern are also present in other works by Melville, it does not dominate them in the way it does the works already mentioned, and it is for this reason that I have chosen to concentrate on these five novels, which cover a range of almost fifty years, and to deal with similar patterns in other works as part of my discussion of these core works.

Because these novels are all set at sea, this pattern of encounter is set in much higher relief. Melville also seems to be freed here from the temptations to which he sometimes succumbed in his other works either to be hopelessly prolix (as in Mardi) or to confuse his terms by an apparent employment of the forms of the domestic novel (as in Pierre). It is perhaps the fact of being at sea that gives many of their particular qualities to these works. The fluidity of the sea itself, and the absence of social norms, serves as a constant reminder of the power of the natural world and of man's very small place in it. At the same time the institution of the sailing ship, whether man-of-war or whaling ship, allows extraordinary authority to the captain, more indeed than would be available to almost any land-based authority in anything but an absolute monarchy. These facts seem to come . . .

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