In fascinating new contextual readings of four of Herman Melville's novels—Typee, White-Jacket, Moby-Dick, and Pierre—Samuel Otter delves into Melville's exorbitant prose to show how he anatomizes ideology, making it palpable and strange. Otter portrays Melville as deeply concerned with issues of race, the body, gender, sentiment, and national identity. He articulates a range of contemporary texts (narratives of travelers, seamen, and slaves; racial and aesthetic treatises; fiction; poetry; and essays) in order to flesh out Melville's discursive world.
Otter presents Melville's works as "inside narratives" offering material analyses of consciousness. Chapters center on the tattooed faces in Typee, the flogged bodies in White-Jacket, the scrutinized heads in Moby-Dick, and the desiring eyes and eloquent, constricted hearts of Pierre. Otter shows how Melville's books tell of the epic quest to know the secrets of the human body. Rather than dismiss contemporary beliefs about race, self, and nation, Melville inhabits them, acknowledging their appeal and examining their sway.
Meticulously researched and brilliantly argued, this groundbreaking study links Melville's words to his world and presses the relations between discourse and ideology. It will deeply influence all future studies of Melville and his work.
Samuel Otter is Associate Professor of English at the University of California, Berkeley.
"What Otter has done better than most contemporary readers of Melville is to bring Melville's obsession with rhetoric and with authorship into alignment with those political issues and to capture fully the context of Melville's concerns."—Priscilla Wald, author of Constituting Americans