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An Analysis of Egalitarianism in Herman Melville’s Moby Dick

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An Analysis of Egalitarianism in Herman Melville’s Moby Dick

11920162203469 唐思媛

The first three years of the 1850s was a significant timepoint of American literature. Three great works—The Scarlet Letter (1850), Moby Dick: or, the Whale (1851) and Uncle Tom's Cabin; or, Life Among the Lowly (1852) came out one by one in these three years. They all represent an idea of egalitarianism at that time which rose with the Civil Rights Movement. Among them, Moby Dick is a prominent work which involves relationship between human and nature. David Herd once praised Moby Dick as a “hymn” for it “equals the image of a co-operative community at work: all hands dependent on all hands, each individual responsible for the security of each”. (Herd) And that’s why Moby Dick made a great impact several decades afterwards, when egalitarianism finally became popular.

1. Male and Female

In Moby Dick, female images are independent and capable. Their portraits get rid of men’s binding up and are freer than in previous books. Citing Aunt Charity as an example, she is “a lean old lady of a most determined and indefatigable spirit, but withal very kindhearted.” (Melville 85) She is responsible as the “Chief among those who did this fetching and carrying.” (85) This description indicates that this woman, Aunt Charity is not a weeping little woman who can only worried everyday about her boys on the sea, but a hardworking labor force who is able to deal with sailing stuff, which usually be thought of men’s job. What’s more, Melville praised her work and described it as “if SHE could help it, nothing should be found wanting in the Pequod.” (86) This kind of praise used to be given to women only because of their “hard-polished windows and clean mud-mat”.

Another portrait is Mrs. Hussey, the hostess of the inn “Pots”. She was “carrying on a brisk scolding with a man” when Ishmael first met her (60). It is not very common to let woman be more powerful and competent than man in other books, and this shows writer’s belief that both men and women can be capable in every aspect, which proves the idea of gender equality at this book.

Lastly, in this book, “the women of New Bedford” are “perennial young as sunlight in the seventh heavens” and waiting for their “sailor sweetheart”. This kind of women who bravely pursues their true love is also a result of the women's liberation movement. These characters can be compared with Hester in The Scarlet Letter, who also has courage to fight against the inequality.

2. White People and Other Races

As Bob Dylan’s Nobel-Prize acceptance speech says, “The ship's crew is made up of men of different races” and “this book tells how different men react in different ways to the same experience.” (Dylan) People of different races work together on Pequod, the whaling shop. For they all have the same purpose to survive on the sea, there isn’t a hierarchy on the boat. “Some worship little wax figures, some wooden figures. Some worship fire” (Dylan), but they still sail together and finish their own part of work quite well. This shows the author’s opinion on egalitarianism and his imagination of a harmonious society.

One African-American on the boat called Pip was a boy who is downtrodden and being bullied all the time. Compared with Uncle Tom in the Uncle Tom's Cabin, Pip is more cowardice. His obedience shows Melville’s disapproval of slavery and slaves’ submitting.

There is another important character called Queequeg. He is a cannibal who sells heads and has his own religion and Ramadan. At the very first, Ishmael “confession I was now as much afraid of him as if it was the devil himself who had thus broken into my room at the dead of night” (Melville 28) But after Ishmael knows more about him, “Queequeg's arm thrown over me [Ishmael] in the most loving and affectionate manner” (31) in the next chapter. And near the end of the story, Queequeg gets “close to the very sill of the door of death”. All crew care so much that “Not a man of the crew but gave him up.” (382) This evidences their strong friendship, irrespective of race, and indicates the author’s idea that no matter what race or creed, human beings are all equal.



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