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HERMAN MELVILLE 1819-1891 One of America’s greatest authors All but ignored in his lifetime Moby Dick—not recognized in Melville’s lifetime Arrowhead, Melville’s family home Born in New York City into a distinguished family A turn of events Age ten—Melville’s father became bankrupt 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 Harvard. Melville became a voracious reader Bible English and American literature and philosophy Experienced early success •Adventure novels In spite of Melville’s early literary and financial success as an adventure writer, he did not continue writing these adventure novels. Instead… • 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 human existence. 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 Moby Dick • Melville exploits (uses) his extensive whaling experience • Seeks the ultimate truth of human existence. Critics and readers were puzzled and indifferent 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. Poor Melville???? • 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 twenty years • 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 not discovered until after his death Thirty-three years later it was published and acclaimed!!! A note was found near the desk where Melville penned Billy Budd… “Be true to the dreams of thy youth.” Moby Dick TV Wasteland • What are the worst shows on TV? • From that list, decide which shows are the most popular. • If these shows are awful, why are they so popular? • What shows do you watch? • Are these shows trashy, tasteless, tacky, vulgar, offensive, worthless…. (choose all that apply) • 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?
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