Research Paper on Herman Melville Literature

Paper Type:  Research paper
Pages:  6
Wordcount:  1437 Words
Date:  2022-04-01


Herman Melville is one of the most famous American authors in literature. Born on 1st August 1819, Melville's work as a novelist, short-story writer, and poet is most studied in many academic institutions. Although Melville had started writing at his tender age, his experiences when he visited his elder brother in Marquesas Island formed the base for his literature work. Also, when Melville searched for a job unsuccessfully while his family was still dependent, he turned to writing as a way to make a living. In this essay, I present research on Herman Melville's work to know more about his famous masterpiece and find out why it is almost forgotten.

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Herman Melville's first novel was known as Typee. Melville published Typee at the young age of twenty-seven years. Typee was based on Melville's adventures in the Marquesas Islands which is currently referred to as French Polynesia. Typee which was initially regarded as Travel Narrative is an anthropological study of the Typees culture that was both exotic and savage. The novel tells about Tom (Tommo) who Melville describes as a prisoner spends four months with Typees as a prisoner whose chances to escape were so minimal due to his swollen leg and his jailer.

Melville's second book is known as Omoo. It was published in 1847 just a year after his first book, Typee. Omoo describes Melville's tours across the Marquesas Islands and how he landed in Tahitian jail where he escaped easily. It is also in Omoo that Melville's bitterness on the colonial government and the missionaries on the Tahitian people is expressed. Melville also began writing his third book, Mardi which he requested his publishers not to call him the author of his previous books (Typee and Omoo) since he wanted Mardi to appear differently which never came to pass. Mardi was met with harsh criticism from the public which disappointed Melville and prompted him to write his fourth book Redburn in 1849 to conceal the disappointments of Mardi's reception.

However, none of the aforementioned books was warmly received and praised by the readers as Melville's masterpiece, The Moby-Dick. Melville completed his masterwork, Moby-Dick, when he was just thirty-two years old. He was still a young writer, had created one of the most extremely solid and creative works in all of literature. This book is now praised by many people as the greatest English novel (Spanos). Nonetheless, Moby-Dick was unsuccessful in its own time, criticized by detractors and rejected by readers; Melville's facts were too hard to perceive. His powers of works were recognized decades after his death.

Melville's writing afterward Moby-Dick is often engrossed in the communication question. In the story Billy Budd, which is Melville's second most well-known work, an impediment speech of a young man makes it impossible for him to guard his virtue. In Billy Budd, Melville expresses his deep concerns about how the society forces people to curtail their will and do as society wants. Melville tries to portray how the society can compel people to participate in acts that they don't want to thus deny them their rights as evidenced by the way the warship sanders out Billy from his ship by force. Billy Budd is an interesting work, especially where it shows how people act against their impulses and conscience to fill the social roles. The theme is evidenced by how Vere compels his mind as well as the mind of other Jurors to apply the law in judging the case of Billy despite him being aware that Billy is innocent.

In his other work "Benito Cereno," Melville brings out explicitly the theme of race and slavery. Many critics have pointed out that what got the unique perspective on racial implications from his two experiences on slavery. First, the critics posit that Melville's idea to write about slavery was driven by his experience as a cabin boy in Marquesas Island, a job whose boss was very thankless and Melville equated it with slavery. Secondly, having been a captive of Typees cannibals, Melville had adequate experience in captivity. Other critics have stated that "Benito Cereno" is Melville's expression of his anxiety over the slavery issue that was so rampant than in America. "Benito Cereno" ends with a definitive instant of botched communication, as the anguished slave ship captain is completely incapable of expressing to his rescuer the vivacious truth that has devastated him.

"Bartleby the Scrivener" is as well the story of unsuccessful communication, and of the unfeasibility of linking between human beings. The story opens about a lawyer who hires a typist (Bartleby) to assist him in reducing the workload of his law firm. Bartleby works diligently for two days until the owner of the farm gains confidence in him (Ngai). But suddenly, Bartleby starts to show signs of mental imbalance by refusing to do his work and spends time in the office staring out through the window. The owner tries to fire Bartleby but the scrivener refuses to leave, and the lawyer finds another office. The story concludes when Bartleby is arrested and taken to prison where he refuses even to eat, but the lawyer still finds time to visit him. In this story, Melville wanted to bring out the theme of charity and selfishness. The lawyer thinks that even if he visits Bartleby and buy him something, it will cost very little. Perhaps "Bartleby the Scrivener" is a Melville's critical commentary on charity.

Another novel by Melville is "The Encantadas" which is also written from Melville's experience through his many sails around Islands. The narration is mainly on geographical area where he navigated and his encounters in the sea. "The Encantadas" contains some poetry phrases that Melville had gotten from Edmund Spenser's poem. Melville did first publish "The Encantadas" under a pseudonym maybe because of the parts borrowed from Spenser.

Also, "White Jacket" by Herman Melville has settings on the Pacific Ocean (Zirker). The novel is about a sailor of the U.S Neversink who was nicknamed white jacket after he bought a jacket that had many pockets that turned other sailors superstitious. "White Jacket" much known for its impact on the U.S legislation. After the novel was published, it was distributed to U.S Senate who consequently banned flogging on the naval vessels.

Herman Melville went on Europe tour in 1856 where he kept his journal on the tour that he later used in his work "The Confidence-Man" which is a despairing satire that shows how America is corrupted by mean dreams of commerce (Melville). "The Confidence Man" is Melville's last novel to be published while he was alive and the most misunderstood and neglected of all his work.

Melville abandoned novel work and ventured into poetry after the outbreak of civil war and his failure to secure a job as a navy. In 1888, Melville privately published his collection of verse namely "John Marr and Other Sailors; With Some Sea-Pieces." While still being assisted by his relatives and friends, Melville wrote his final poetry verse collections in 1891. One of the verses in the collection was "Timoleon" which remained unpublished up to 1924 after Melville's death. However, one of the most important works of Melville is the last manuscript that he wrote few months before he died. The manuscript was a culmination of the novel "Billy Budd." The prose about "Billy Budd" talks about how Billy Budd killed the master-at-arms after he was falsely charged. Melville tells of how Billy Bud ends up being hanged and his memory live in his mind. Five months after he wrote that manuscript in April 1891, Herman Melville died unhappy man whose life was neither materialistically successful.


From all the works of Herman Melville, we can find out that the great novelist wrote a lot about his own experience as evidenced by several novels revolving around ships and sailing. Perhaps, Melville's work is almost forgotten because of the life he lived until he died poor. However, some of Melville's work such as "Benito Cereno" and "Moby-Dick" is still remembered and are very significant in modern literature. Nevertheless, his poetry work is most forgotten perhaps because he didn't spend much time on them before he died. Regardless of all adversities that surrounded Melville, I consider him triumphant in literature work for writing all the aforementioned novels and poems collection.

Works Cited

Melville, Herman. The Confidence-Man. New York: Jazzybee Verlag, 1966.

Ngai, Sianne. Ugly Feelings. Vol. 6. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2005.

Spanos, William V. The Errant Art of Moby-Dick: The Canon, the Cold War, and the Struggle for American Studies. New York: Duke University Press, 1995.

Zirker, Priscilla Allen. " "Evidence of the Slavery Dilemma in White-Jacket."." American Quarterly 18(3) (1966): 477-492.

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