One of America’s greatest authors
All but ignored in his lifetime
Moby Dick—not recognized in
Arrowhead, Melville’s family home
Born in New York City into a distinguished
A turn of events
Age ten—Melville’s father became
His family is poverty stricken
Age 12—father collapses under stress,
grows ill, insane, dies
Melvilles thoughts turn to the age-
old dream of going to sea.
A whale ship was my Yale College and my
Melville became a voracious
English and American literature and
Experienced early success
In spite of Melville’s early literary
and financial success as an
adventure writer, he did not
continue writing these adventure
• Melville had suffered the hardships and
inhumanity of life aboard three whaling sips
and a navy frigate. He had taken part in the
slaughter of no fewer than half a dozen
whales. He had seen native peoples shamed
and manipulated in the name of progress and
piety. At home, the burning issue of slavery
was dividing the nation. The Industrial
Revolution had turned cities into smoky,
disease-ridden warrens (habitats).
• Gold had been discovered in California,
and America’s pristine frontier was being
ravaged by the stampede westward.
• To Melville, man seemed at war with his
own better nature. All this weighed heavily
on him. He combined his old passion for
adventure at sea with his newfound
appreciation for the terrible price men paid
for their exploits.
He wanted to write a novel that
would seek the ultimate truth of
Is truth (real life) benign or evil?
What other transcendentalist went
to the water to discover if life was
“mean or sublime”?
•benign or evil-Melville
• Sublime mean-Thoreau
Melville uses the great white whale,
Moby Dick, as a symbol for exploring the
truth of human existence
In Moby Dick, Melville reflected on a wealth
of whaling experience
• Melville exploits (uses) his extensive whaling
• Seeks the ultimate truth of human existence.
Critics and readers were puzzled and
We don’t get it, and we don’t care
• Melville dedicated Moby Dick to Nathaniel
Hawthorne who had been a mentor to him
for several years.
• Melville falls into debt
• Ill health
• Possible mental derangement
• three more novels are poorly
received and Melville cannot
escape his impoverished life
Can Melville turn his life around?
• Finds a job in a customhouse; stays for
• Continues writing with little success
• During this time, two sons die tragically
The calm, the coolness, the silent, grass-
growing mood in which a man ought
always to compose—that, I fear can
seldom be mine. Dollars damn me; and
the malicious Devil is forever grinning in
upon me, holding the door ajar. My dear
sir, a presentiment is on me—I shall at
last be worn out and perish…What I feel
most moved to write, that is banned—it
will not pay. Yet, altogether, write the
other way I cannot. So the product is a
final hash, and all my books are botches.
Success at last
Melville writes Billy
Budd which is
until after his
later it was
A note was found near the desk where
Melville penned Billy Budd…
“Be true to the dreams of
• What are the worst shows on TV?
• From that list, decide which shows are the
• If these shows are awful, why are they so
• What shows do you watch?
• Are these shows trashy, tasteless, tacky,
vulgar, offensive, worthless…. (choose all
• Why do you watch them?
•If you needed money, would you pander to
the public or maintain your integrity?
•Example—produce Jackass episodes or
produce more respectable material?