Archive for the 'Race' Category

Mar 05 2010

The Savage Whaler

Published by under Race

A while back I marked a quote (we might have looked at it in class) that struck me at the time, but it wasn’t until I just returned to it that I realized how significant and meaningful this quote really is. It comes to us from Ishmael, in a seemingly unremarkable part of the novel, just after we meet the crew of the Pequod. Chapter 57: Of Whales in Paint; In Teeth, In Wood; In Sheet-Iron; In Stone; In Mountains; In Stars, page two of the chapter (289 in my Bantam Classics Edition):

Long exile from Christendom and civilization inevitably restores a man to that condition in which God placed him, i.e., what is called savagery. Your true whale-hunter is as much a savage as an Iroquois. I myself am a savage, owning no allegiance but to the King of the Cannibals; and ready at any moment to rebel against him.

What a remarkable and revealing statement of Melville’s feelings on race (and more). You’ll notice I posed this blog to race, but I may just as well posted it to a half dozen other categories. Ishmael portrays these savage whalers as a different race–a group of men restored to that condition in which God placed them. Melville views these savage whalers as a somewhat divine and natural race, men not of civilization and Christendom, but of God, nature, and the environment.

How can Ishmael characterize a whale-hunter as as much of a savage as an Iroquois? Because a whaler, though bound by the rules and regulations of the ship, is otherwise a wholly free and simple man. A man–at least temporarily–without allegiance to a nation, religion, or profession other than hunting–taking what he needs for himself from the earth.

Ishmael almost (or does he?) goes as far as to call himself a cannibal, a lawless animal without principle, as one would have taken the term to mean in the 19th century. But even to this he would be ready to rebel at any moment, because like a cannibal he has no allegiance to anyone or any institution and would devour his own brother or leader if need be (a stretch, but stay with me).

With this insight into the nature of these savage whalers, it is now no wonder to me that the savages have always had pratical control of the ship, because in essence all of the crew are savages. Compared to a landlubber, the whitest man among them may as well be a tattooed, bloodthirsty cannibal. But what I do wonder at, what now seems so impressive to me, is how Ahab could have gained the allegiance and cooperation of a ship of 35 savages. What a feat he pulled off on the quarter-deck to manage to guide the focus of all these free natives towards a doomed plot to kill an albino monster. Perhaps Ahab is this King of Cannibals, the only man who could ever hope to gain the imprudent obedience of a crew of seafaring barbarians.

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Mar 04 2010

“Melville’s ‘truth’ was his recognition of the moment in America when whiteness became ideology” – Toni Morrison

Published by under Race

In this post I decided to recall the class discussion of race as an ideology in Moby Dick. After finishing the novel I am still left with numerous overarching questions regarding Melville’s stance on race and how he intended to portray and critique the racism of his time, but in looking through the various posts and in trying to sort through my personal interpretations, I have come to the conclusion that Melville is not a racist. He frequently makes the point to give the ‘non white’ races positions of power and influence and in this may very well be trying to use Moby Dick to communicate anti-slavery sentiments.

More specifically I wanted to examine Toni Morrison’s assertions in her essay, ‘Unspeakable Things Unspoken’ regarding Melville’ s race related intent in Moby Dick. As highlighted in class, Morrison is claiming that Melville isn’t merely anti-slavery or supportive of slave revolts, but trying to overthrow the existing ideology of whiteness. Morrison states that

“he [Melville] was overwhelmed by the philosophical and metaphysical inconsistencies of an extraordinary and unprecedented idea that had its fullest manifestation in his on time in his on country, and that that idea as the successful assertion of whiteness as ideology” (Morrison 22).

In reading more of Morrison’s analysis of Moby Dick, her arguments became increasingly convincing. She explores Ahab’s character and his madness in his quest to destroy Moby Dick. I found her analytical viewpoint very interesting and persuasive and have come to agree that Melville very probably could’ve intended for the white whale, Moby Dick, to represent the ideology of race. Morrison makes numerous intriguing points involving this metaphor and how it plays out with Ahab’s psychosis and the concept of whiteness vs. savagery, or rather, the “white racial ideology that is savage” (Morrison 21).

Although I find Morrison’s discussion of Moby Dick very convincing, I think that Moby Dick, being a complex novel with countless symbols, metaphors, themes, and social commentaries, I don’t think it can be read purely as a racial narrative. Perhaps where Morrison loses me is in her analysis of Ahab’s psychosis and how in fact, his racism as represented by his intent to triumph over Moby Dick, has caused and perpetuated his madness.

With no surprise, Morrison highlights a few sections in the chapter, The Whiteness of the Whale, in order to bolster her argument. I definitely agree with her analysis in that Melville is not exploring white people, but whiteness idealized. I don’t want to go into analyzing this chapter too much because it has obviously been done repeatedly in class and on the blog. However, in my reevaluation of the novel it continues to resurface as one of the most powerful and intellectually challenging and confusing chapters. I think that in discussing both beautiful and dangerous sinister images of whiteness Melville is attempting to explore the evolution of whiteness as an ideology. But, to openly question the very notion of white racial superiority would have been very bold and risky in his time, so Melville indirectly critiques and questions whiteness and in the end leaves it to the readers to extrapolate their own conclusions. This is made obvious in the last sentence of the chapter, “…and of all these things the Albino Whale was the symbol. Wonder ye then at the fiery hunt?” (Melville 189).

Works Cited

Melville, Herman. Moby Dick. New York: Signet Classic, 1998.

Morrison, Toni. “Unspeakable Things Unspoken: The Afro-American Presence in American Literature.” The Tanner Lectures on Human Values. The University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, MI. 07 Oct 1988. Lecture.

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Mar 02 2010

fate and the savage lens

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In the chapters leading up to the end of the novel, the sense of impending doom is heightened. We understand that the Pequod and its inhabitants are inextricably entangled in fate, what will be will be. The harpooners play a special part in this sequence, their outside position as other gives them a unique perspective of the Pequod and its fate. This ability to somehow see, sense, or divine what is predestined is certainly present in Fedallah’s prophecy, but there are a handful of other instances that represent this same wonder.

The transformation of Queequeg’s coffin into the means of salvation for Ishmael, thus in many ways living up to Queequeg’s initial oath to Ishmael signals that Queequeg has some special connection or access to the current of fate that others are not privy to. His seeming decision not to die of the illness is another indicator of his singular position as a “savage” to maybe play a more active or at least more aware role in his course of life. In chapter 126, The Life Buoy,

the watch…was startled by a cry so plaintively wild and unearthly…that one and all, they started from their reveries, and for the space of some moments stood, or sat, or leaned all transfixedly listening, like the carved Roman slave, while that wild cry remained within hearing. The Christian or civilized part of the crew said it was mermaids, and shuddered; but the pagan harpooners remained unappalled. Yet the grey Manxman – the oldest mariner of all – declared that the wild thrilling sounds that were heard, were the voices of newly drowned men in the sea” (463)

Members of the crew have different responses to the uncanny cries, but the Harpooners are not frightened. This may be because they are aware that it is seals – the answer Ahab gives to put everyone at rest. I however would argue that it is because the uncivilized/non-christian Daggoo, Queequeg and Tashtego are much more comfortable with the realm of the supernatural. They are not afraid that things exist that we cannot understand or explain as they have not been socialized to accept the scientific model of the world. Rather they are able to see into what is actually at work with a different viewpoint, one not clouded by irrational fear of the irrational. This quiet power recommends them to Ahab and this is why Ishmael later remarks that they are the only men on board who Ahab still seems to trust. He takes their power as outsiders as a marker of a clear knowledge of the future, rather than a sense of the nature of fate, and wrongly interprets that because they are “on his side” that he is in the right and will win out. Ahab makes the same mistake of projecting his own delusions of divinity and destiny onto Fedallah’s prediction.

Fedallah’s prediction comes out right; he really has a mystic connection to time’s predestination, but Ahab mistakes it as an assurance that he will survive the journey. Instead it is a prediction of the destruction of not just Ahab, but the ship and all the crew but Ishmael. Whether Fedallah is aware of the actual end or not is unclear, but seems possible, that he is facing the fate that he understands must and will come to be. Ahab thinks that the two hearses cannot possibly be encountered on the voyage. He then comes to see that one is Moby Dick and the other the Pequod. In this revelation he sees how deluded he has been, how deeply he has believed in his own fabrication. Ahab and the Harpooneers go down alike in a great climax of fate-action, laid equal in their watery grave. The sea washes over everything.

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Feb 27 2010

What About Fleece?

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So far no one has written about Chapter 64, “Stubb’s Supper”, which I find surprising because it contains the character who is more like a slave than any other in the novel—Fleece. Not only does Fleece sound like Buckwheat, making him sound stereotypically ignorant, but his behavior reflects this as well, as most of the chapter is Fleece indulging Stubb’s every whim. Often, this is a humiliating experience:

There are those sharks now over the side, don’t you see they prefer it tough and rare? What a shindy they are kicking up! Cook, go and talk to ‘em; tell ‘em they are welcome to help themselves civilly, and in moderation, but they must keep quiet. Blast me, if I can hear my own voice. Away, cook, and deliver my message. [Herman Melville, Moby Dick]

Fleece proceeds to deliver a “sermon” to the sharks, first accepting them as his fellow creatures, but in the end damning them for making a racket. All the while Stubb is standing over his shoulder, laughingly goading the poor old man on. For instance, Stubb tells Fleece “you mustn’t swear that way when you’re preaching. That’s no way to convert sinners, cook!” Though usually jovial, if not magnanimous, here Stubb acts quite viciously. Perhaps he thinks he is just having fun, but to toy with a man half-a-century your senior is highly out of line and blatantly disrespectful. In short, it’s the kind of thing that is only socially acceptable in an exchange between a master and his slave, for only in this relationship does the victimized party have no recourse.

When Stubb tires of this game, he proceeds to his original purpose of criticizing Fleece’s whale-cooking abilities. After all, he didn’t wake Fleece in the middle of the night  for nothing. Rather than simply saying “my steak is overdone, Fleece”, Stubb impulsively toys with Fleece beforehand:

“Well,” said Stubb, helping himself freely meanwhile; “I shall now go back to the subject of this steak. In the first place, how old are you, cook?””,

“What dat do wid de ‘teak,” said the old black, testily.

“Silence! How old are you, cook?”

“’Bout ninety, dey say,” he gloomily muttered.

“Silence!” is ordered, and a reluctant answer given. Are we so sure there are no slaves on board the Pequod? This exchange continues until Stubb reveals his sadism:

Well then, cook, you see this whale-steak of yours was so very bad, that I have put it out of sight as soon as possible; you see that, don’t you?

Not only did Stubb rudely awake Fleece just to complain about his cooking, but he actually enjoyed the cooking! No wait, he hated it so much that he had to eat it as quickly as possible. After all, when I’m presented with a nice, big plate of Brussels sprouts, I am so repulsed by the sight of them that I panic and eat them all very rapidly, forgetting that I can simply compost the little cabbages. I believe that these quotes speak for themselves, and I hope that my peers will in turn weigh in on the question of whether or not Fleece is a slave.

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Feb 27 2010

Melville as the Awkward Racist

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I have already spent two posts attempting to reconcile Melville’s ostensibly racist language with the belief that he was not at all racist, and the more I delve into the subject, the more I ask, “What the hell, Herman?” He writes chapter after chapter about how wonderful Queequeg and the other savages are, and then this kind of thing happens once again:

You have seen Italian organ-boys holding a dancing-ape by a long cord. Just so, from the ship’s steep side, did I hold Queequeg down there in the sea… [Herman Melville, Moby Dick]

Somehow the harpooners are paragons of moral character and physical strength, and yet Queequeg is a dancing-ape? Now I grant that the rope is called a monkey-rope no matter who is tied to the business end, but this analogy deserves a look-see. The problem I have with this passage is that Queequeg is the one in control. Ishmael states that “should poor Queequeg sink to rise no more, then both usage and honour demanded, that instead of cutting the cord, it should drag me down in his wake.” Should Ishmael not be the ape? The one whose life lies in the hands of another’s actions? But no, Queequeg is the ape. I find it all too plausible that Melville simply thought that comparing a white man to an ape would be unrealistic when there’s a perfectly good savage you can use in his stead.

The irony of this is realized in the very next paragraph, where Ishmael states that he is both “wedded” and the “twin brother” of Queequeg. Further, there is not even a whiff of resentment on Ishmael’s part that he is connected to a black man. Pretend for a moment that one of the racist townspeople from To Kill A Mockingbird was transposed into Ishmael’s place. All one would hear is a stream of bigoted expletives at Starbuck or Stubbs about how it is most unnatural to tie together the fates of a white man and a lowly negro. Thus, while portraying black people as simian, Melville also implies that there is no difference in the value of a black person’s and white person’s life. This point is evidenced by Ishmael’s train of thought on the following pages. Rather than complain about the injustice of his situation, he instead discusses the tenuousness of life. To Ishmael, the relevant fact is that his life is in someone else’s hands; the color of those hands is irrelevant.

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Feb 22 2010

King of the Cannibals

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In chapters 55-57, Melville reflects on what seems to be yet another whale-related obsession, that of aesthetics and representation. This inclination was first summoned in the Spouter Inn, when Ishmael was drawn to the enigmatic painting hung in the entryway. In 55 and 56 he revisits the topic, drawing an ever-heavier veil of mystery around the whale. There are few even barely tolerable representations of the whale in painting, as the whale’s form is a thing that seems to positively resist representation. This is because the whale is only ever seen living by whalemen, and whalers are not painters. The skeleton of the whale, or even its lifeless body cannot show us its true visage, the whale is a lived being, and always partially submerged in water. In Melville’s time there was no conceivable way for the whale’s full swimming figure to be taken in by the human eye, and there never could be. It was unknowable, not subject to our limited knowledge. To create a copy of a whale, or indeed a copy of anything that touches the eternal is not possible, not even imaginable.

Chapter 57 seems a bit of a departure from the discussion of the “high” arts, in this departure it incredibly questions the constructed division of art and craft, and of marginalized peoples. Ishmael greatly admires bone carvings, and remarks upon the similarity between pacific island carvings and whaler’s carvings,

Long exile from Christendom and civilization inevitably restores a man to that condition in which God placed him, i.e. what is called savagery”  244

Here Ishmael defines savagery as “that condition in which God placed (man)”, a telling and radical statement. The ‘savages’ are not godless primitives, but men that are not substantively different in makeup, all disparities a result of a lack of Christian society. And for Ishmael this is not necessarily a “lack”, clearly, as he himself has chosen to forsake the western world for the sea, in search of something or some understanding that has not become confused and corrupted. Ishmael proclaims:

I myself am a savage, owning no allegiance but to the King of the Cannibals; and ready at any moment to rebel against him” (245)

After using the word liberally for the whole of a novel, Ishmael’s understanding of “savage” metamorphoses in front of us. He traces connections between the art, of what he terms the “Hawaiian savage”, the “white sailor-savage”, the “Greek savage”, and memorably refers to Durer as a “Dutch savage”. Ishmael satires the audacity of shrinking any person to fit the label savage, by using it indiscriminately to describe both extolled cultures and artists to the distained and forgotten. He compares the human perseverance exhibited in the years spent on a small intricate carving to the invention of a Latin lexicon, a radical idea sweeping away barriers of cultural authority, instead probing past rigid constructions to what Ishmael really cares about, the universal human spirit.

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Feb 21 2010

Don’t Rock the Boat

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In Chapter 48, The First Lowering, Flask stands on Daggoo’s shoulders. A momentous, earth-shattering occasion. Well, almost. It depends on how deeply we read into the event. Interpretations could run the gamut, anywhere from “Melville is showing that blacks can be used anywhere for anything!” to  “this is a metaphor for black superiority.” In between these extremes, we stumble upon the idea that this episode is a metaphor for American slavery. Several quotes from the chapter evidence this viewpoint, the first of which is an exchange between Daggoo and Flask:

“Good a mast-head as any, sir. Will you mount?”

“That I will, and thank ye very much, my fine fellow; only I wish you fifty feet taller.”, [Herman Melville, Moby Dick]

How greedy! Little flask here gets a combined height of well over eleven feet, and yet he wants fifty more. One need not delve too deeply to see how this compares to American slavery. Here, an empowered yet diversely inferior white authority figure is using a black for his own ends, and then simply asks for more. Just as blacks were driven harder and harder in the South, more and more is asked of Daggoo without reward (though he is thanked at least). One could argue that Flask is only joking, but is it not so that there is a little truth behind every joke?

Melville points out this “poetic injustice” a few pages later when he writes that

…for sustaining himself with a cool, indifferent, easy, unthought of, barbaric majesty, the noble negro to every roll of the sea harmoniously rolled his fine form. On his broad back, flaxen-haired Flask seemed a snow-flake. The bearer looked nobler than the rider. [Herman Melville, Moby Dick]

Daggoo is a paragon of physical prowess. His muscles work in perfect conjunction, enabling him to remain stable as he supports a white man in a rocking boat. Unless my high school education has misguided me, I recall that a rocking boat was a metaphor for prewar America. Their differences irreconcilable, abolitionists and slave-owners at every moment risked capsizing the boat, or driving the country to war. In the middle stands the innocent negro, who, despite turbulent waters, remains steady and, ironically, it is this strength that made slavery so profitable and thus worth fighting for. Here Melville is praising blacks for their strength and fortitude, a trend he continues onto the next page:

So have I seen Passion and Vanity stamping the living magnanimous earth, but the earth did not alter her tides and her seasons for that. [Herman Melville, Moby Dick]

This passage reminds me of the negro gospels African slaves sang in the American South. The tone is one of resilience. It seems to say “You can try to destroy us, but we’re here to stay.” Interestingly, whites are the vain ones while blacks are the earth—immortal, beautiful, and giving. In the end, Melville implies, cream rises to the top and, someday, they will be our equals.

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Feb 21 2010

Racial hierarchy revisited

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The symbolic hierarchy that allows the Pequod to function as a successful whaling ship with three physically powerful non-white harpooners bolstering the administrative power of the three white mates, Starbuck, Stubb, and Flask is a constant reminder of the racial diversity, stereotypes, and divides of the time. In this hierarchy all of the non-white characters are naturally subordinate to the whites and tend to function as caricatures of their cultures. In chapter 48, The First Lowering, Melville presents the reader with a unique scene that poses an interesting and ironic reminder of the racial hierarchy that embeds itself in every aspect of the novel’s progression. On page 214 Daggoo offers his body as a platform for Flask to more fully scan the ocean for whales,

“The sight of little flask mounted upon gigantic Daggoo was yet more curious; for sustaining himself with a cool, indifferent, easy, unthought of, barbaric majesty, the noble negro to every roll of the sea harmoniously rolled his fine form. On his broad back, flaxen-haired Flask seemed a snow-flake. The bearer looked nobler than the rider. Though truly vivacious, tumultuous, ostentatious little Flask would now and then stamp with impatience; but not one added heave did he thereby give to the negro’s lordly chest. So have I seen Passion and Vanity stamping the living magnanimous earth, but the earth did not alter her tines and her seasons for that.”

In this scene Flask standing on Daggoo’s shoulders becomes a physical reminder of the structure created by the three white mates and the three non-white harpooners on board the Pequod. In each case, the non-white man, whether Native American, Pacific Islander, or African, becomes merely a tool in the hands – or even under the feet – of the white man. However, it is interesting to point out that this passage applauds the physical wonders of Daggoo, noting him as superior to Flask as that ‘the bearer looked nobler than the rider’. Although Melville uses this passage to portray the power and superiority of white men of ‘inferior races’, he also uses it to display the unrelenting physical strength and important physical superiority of the non-white races. Additionally, this passage comments on the actual color contrast between the two races. The way in which Melville describes Flask’s Anglo appearance; ‘flaxen-haired Flask’, and in his reference to Flask as a ‘snow flake’ invokes a feeling of stark contrast between the ‘whiteness’ of Flask and the ‘blackness’ of Daggoo.

Melville’s portrayal of Daggoo’s unquestionable willingness to function as a physical tool just as a pedestal would serves as a blatant commentary on the voluntary submission of the non-white men to the white men both on board the Pequod and in 19th century America. Melville is using the somewhat laughable scene of little Flask mounted on Daggoo’s shoulders to comment on the ridiculous nature of racial hierarchies that existed in 19th century America.

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Feb 21 2010

“a whale would sell for thirty times what you would, Pip”

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Pip, as the only major African-American character in the novel, provides a unique commentary on racial issues of 19th century America. Melville, or rather, Ishmael presents Pip as “the most insignificant of the Pequod’s crew” who merely serves as the Pequod’s ship-keeper, a sailor who stays on the ship while the whaleboats go out (Melville 398). However, from the moment Pip enters the novel his race plays a significant role in dictating his interactions and relationship with the other crew members.

Pip’s first soliloquy reveals to the reader all of the dangers he faces as a young African American boy on board the ship. Although he is evidently afraid of the storm and the inevitable encounter with Moby Dick, he is also afraid of the actions of the white sailors. It is apparent that his racial difference affects both his relationships with men and, in a larger sense, with God. In chapter 40, Midnight, Forecastle, Melville allows Pip to belittle himself and his race by submitting to the religious customs of the white Americans as an inferior ‘black’ being.

“Oh, though big white God aloft there somewhere in yon darkness, have mercy on this small black boy down here; preserve him from all men that have no bowels to feel fear!” (Melville 171).

In chapter 93, Castaways, Ishmael highlights Pip’s immense fear of the sea, his unique relationship with the white men on the ship, and his symbolic role as the African American slave. In the beginning of the chapter when Melville compares Pip to the ship’s steward, Dough-Boy, he simultaneously elevates African-Americans while blatantly portraying racial stereotypes.  Ishmael describes Pip as “over tender-hearted, but at the bottom very bright, with that pleasant, genial, jolly brightness peculiar to his tribe; a tribe which ever enjoys all holidays and festivities with finer, freer relish than any other race” Ishmael goes so far as to instruct the reader: “Nor smile so, while I write that this little black was brilliant, for even blackness has its brilliancy; behold yon lustrous ebony, paneled in king’s cabinets” (Melville 399). Ishmael’s depiction of Pip represents the 19th century white man’s skewed view of the black race. Although the recognition of Pip’s ‘brilliance’ and his superiority to Dough-Boy reveals the greater humanity and more developed character of the black man in contrast to his white counterpart, the very nature of Ishamael’s description of Pip’s ‘tribe’  presents an extremely cliché racial representation. For example; the idea that African-Americans are constantly jolly and that they all play the tambourine.

Chapter 93 also contains a critical turning plot piece regarding Pip’s role in the novel. However, I won’t be addressing Pip’s dramatic shift to an integral symbol of insanity as a result of  being left to drift alone in the open sea, but rather his interactions with the other crew members during this fiasco.  In this Chapter Pip has been temporarily reassigned to Stubb’s whaleboat crew. The first time out he jumps from the boat, causing Stubb and Tashtego to lose their already harpooned whale. Upon this discretion Stubb forcefully lectures Pip on the importance of ‘sticking to the boat’. Interestingly, Stubb makes an obvious allusion to slavery in saying that “a whale would sell for thirty times what you would, Pip, in Alabama” (Melville 400).  This reference emphasizes the presence of slavery in 19th century America and reveals the social acceptance of a statement such as this. After Stubb attempts to use this statement to control Pip’s actions Ishmael interjects with insightful commentary regarding human tendencies of slavery, “Perhaps Stubb indirectly hinted, that though man loved his fellow, yet man is a money-making animal , which propensity too often interferes with is benevolence” (Melville 400). It can be read that Melville intended this segment to be a critique of slavery and a broader commentary on human’s innate tendencies to ignore morality for self gain and, more specifically, monetary profit. This chapter is one of the many in Moby Dick that Melville has utilized to interject his negative feelings towards slavery in America.

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Feb 16 2010

In The Golden Inn

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Chapter 54 takes place “one saint’s eve, smoking upon the thick-gilt tiled piazza of the Golden Inn,” in Lima. The chapter mostly entails Ishmael telling a story about a sailor named Steelkilt. This story, however, is not relevant here. I would like to instead focus on Ishmael’s compatriots and how Melville portrays Spaniards.

Whereas we have explored many times over Melville/Ishmael’s view that, though savages, black people and Indians have many redeeming qualities. Chapter 54 does not treat Spaniards in such a nuanced or forgiving way. Though Ishmael’s friends do not have many lines in the chapter, when they do speak it is usually just to interrupt Ishmael’s story with an ignorant or stereotype-reinforcing comment. Take, for example, the words of Don Pedro:

Nay, Senor; hereabouts in this dull, warm, most lazy, and hereditary land, we know but little of your vigorous North. [Herman Melville, Moby Dick]

There is a patent contrast between words such as dull, lazy, and hereditary (“of a kind established by tradition”, according to Merriam-Webster’s Dictionary) used to describe South American life and the vigorous life of New England. To the uninformed reader, South America sounds like a place filled with indolent slackers. By contrast, New England is filled with vital, quick-witted, hard-working individuals. Coincidentally, South America is filled with natives and Spaniards, while New England is populated mostly by whites. It would not have been difficult for a 19th Century reader to make the implied connection. Also, notice that the Spaniard is calling himself lazy. Had Melville portrayed a white character calling a Spaniard these things, we could dismiss him and the words as petty bigots. However, why would a Spaniard slander himself? These things must be true then.

Melville provides his white audience with more feel-good fun facts in that same chapter when he writes,

Lakeman! [a.k.a. Steelkilt]— Buffalo! Pray, what is a Lakeman, and where is Buffalo?’ said Don Sebastian, rising in his swinging mat of grass. [Herman Melville, Moby Dick]

Not only would Melville’s audience get a good chuckle out of Don Sebastian’s ignorance (“Who doesn’t know where Buffalo is?”), but he also slips in the fact that Don Sebastian is wearing what I can only assume is a grass skirt, though we have little reason to believe that Spanish sailors would dress significantly different from their New England counterparts. What an educational chapter– I never knew Spaniards were obsequious, lethargic, verdure-clad alcoholics!

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