Magazine article Melville Society Extracts

Ala 2004-San Francisco, CA Re-Reading Redburn and White-Jacket

Magazine article Melville Society Extracts

Ala 2004-San Francisco, CA Re-Reading Redburn and White-Jacket

Article excerpt

No writer ever put the reality before his reader more unflinchingly than he does in Redburn and White-Jacket." So wrote Nathaniel Hawthorne to Evert Duyckinck in late August of 1850, following Hawthorne's historic first encounter with Melville earlier that month. What is the nature of the "reality" that Melville put so "unflinchingly" before the reader in these two works? Despite a number of studies on the historical, biographical, literary, and cultural contexts of these narratives, we still have much to learn about their modes of representation and their value for our own times: Although a perennial literary theme, Melville's depiction in Redburn and White-Jacket of a youth's "initiation" into the evils and injustices of the world should strike an especially responsive chord in us today, when America is threatened by mysterious enemies abroad, and paying lip-service to ideals of freedom and democracy that are undermined at home by ideological zealotry premised on political and economic inequality--an America, in short, in pressing need of "reform," comparable to Melville's antebellum world. …

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