, Research Paper
The definition of evil, though very broad, is said to be morally reprehensible or the bringing of suffering and misfortune: for example, the opposite of good. Evil serves as everything that a person fears and hates. It serves as a foil to the qualities of good. Where good brings love, evil spawns hate; where good brings hope, evil creates despair.
The conflict between Good and Evil can be traced back to Biblical times and can be characterized by the conflict between God and Satan. As the books of the Bible progress, we see Satan or evil attempt to influence or corrupt innocent people. This seems to be one of the earliest examples of evil in writing.
Throughout literary history, the conflict of Good versus Evil has tended to dominate the classical literary trend and has been utilized by numerous authors; Herman Melville poses as no exception in the long array of writers on this topic. He was an extremist of this comparison and brought forth new ideas about the whole subject in itself. In the writings of Herman Melville, the intellectual and moral world appeared as consisting not merely in a duality of good and evil, truth and falsehood, but in endless and soul-defying ambiguities. These uncertainties would bring about the whole suspense of the novels in themselves. They were also the very reason why the contemporaries of the time isolated his writings as precarious.
In fact, Melville expands upon this idea with his method of presenting his characters as symbols of things much larger and more complex. In his writings, Melville portrays aspects of nature as evil or destructive. This use of representation and detail help to note Melville as one of the most respected authors of all time.
The majority of Melville s writings are based upon his own personal experiences or some related occurrence Melville s life appears to follow his writings very closely and with much detail which help to appeal to his readers. Through having done this, he has provided a bridge between fantasy and reality.
Herman Melville was born in New York City on August 1st 1819 to Allan Melville and Maria Gansevoort Melville. His father was a middle class merchant and his mother was born to a wealthy family. Melville s father had become bankrupt due to the depression that had taken place at the time. Soon after his bankruptcy, Allan Melville died in 1832. His father s death would greatly affect him and he would reflect upon it in his writing of Pierre.
Following his father s death, Herman abandoned his position at the bank and moved to Pittsfield where his uncle had owned a farm. During winter of 1835, Melville leaves the farm to assist his brother in the fur business. He had served as a clerk and attended classes at the Albany Classical School and had earned a membership of the Albany Young Men s Association which was a club for reading and debating.
By 1837, Herman s brother, Gansevoort had fallen into bankruptcy like his father. Herman was forced to move back to Pittsfield where he took a position as the schoolmaster where he had taught until Christmas when he had moved back to Albany. Upon his return, the Melville family had lost a significant amount of money and moved from Albany to the neighboring town of Lansingburgh. Melville began to take steps toward a career and would attend the Lansingburgh Academy for surveying and engineering. Melville would produce his first known composition for the Democratic Press and Lansignburgh Advertiser on May 4th and May 18th, 1839.
Searching for a direction in life, Melville joins the crew of the St. Lawrence and sets sail on the adventure that would inspire some of his most celebrated writings. Four weeks later, the St. Lawrence anchored in Liverpool and would set sail again on August 13th for New York. The ship would dock in New York on October 1st.
Upon his return, Melville decided that he did not desire a maritime career and began work as a schoolteacher in Greenbush, New York until it s closing when he began to teach in Brunswick. Melville would soon join the crew of the Acushnet, a whaling ship that had set sail January 3rd, 1841. The opening of the Acushnet s sails would prove to be for literature one of the most important voyages of all time.
Melville would see much of the South Seas and would eventually escape from the Acushnet with a companion of his. They would eventually stumble upon a group of unfriendly cannibals known as the Taipis. His stay with the Taipis would inspire his first work Typee. Several months later, he would escape to another whaling ship, the Lucy Ann, where the crew would threaten mutiny. Melville s adventures in the South Seas would have great inspiration on his writings, especially with Typee, Omoo, and Moby Dick.
On August 17th, 1843, Melville would enlist in the U.S. Navy and would begin the framework for White Jacket. Melville s absence would prove fortunate on his family s wealth. Following his return, Melville began his work on Typee in 1846 and Omoo in 1847. Also, in 1847, he would marry Elizabeth Shaw in Boston, Massachusetts.
In Typee, Melville examines the question of who the savages are in the world. He begins to compare the lifestyle and customs of the Taipis to American customs. He examines the differences of the savage life when compared to the civilized life. In his first two novels, he writes of personal experiences and combines it with fictional qualities. His first two novels would support a good story but would be frowned upon by critics who disagreed with his slandering of missionaries in the South Seas.
His third novel, Mardi, was published in1849 and served as some sort of a sequel to his first two novels. In Mardi, Melville portrays Taji and his adventures through the islands of Mardi, which ultimately represent the world, and it s various faces. Readers join Taji on his quest for the beautiful Yillah who he had saved from sacrifice by killing the priest that was to kill her. Throughout the novel, Taji s search for Yillah turns to obsession.
For Taji and the reader, Yillah becomes the quest for innocence and man s yearning for lost innocence. Taji s fascination with obtaining lost innocence causes him to become evil himself. As the novel comes to climax, the reader realizes Taji s Yillah Cannot be found wherever evil exists, and since evil is universal, a condition of existence, Yillah can never be discovered. In Taji s attempt to become the image of perfection and innocence or all good, he himself becomes all evil. This sort of character is seen once more in Melville s work. Taji fails to realize the consequence of his selfish quest and is doomed in the end. Readers see a relationship between Taji and Ahab of Moby Dick.
Following Mardi, Melville wrote Redburn and White Jacket. The two novels are related in theme and subject. Throughout both novels, Melville follows both characters as they pass through the world. Both books tell the story of the world s evil. The characters are initiated into this world of evil and observe and experience it, and finally become part of it. The stories concentrate on the imperfection of mankind and the world and the many masks that evil can obtain and hide behind.
By February 1850, Melville had the feeling that his profession as an author was well off and he had the urge to continue writing. In 1851, his most famous and finest work was published, Moby Dick. Moby Dick serves as one of the greatest examples of symbolism in writing and is regarded as a profound contribution to American literature.
In Moby Dick, readers see multiple examples of evil and it s corruption of people. In the novel, the great sea captain, Ahab serves as this example. Ahab, at first seems to be in search of every whaler s purpose, the prizes that the hunt brings. In actuality, Ahab s quest is fueled by the loss of his leg to the great white whale. The crew does not become aware of his actual purpose until the chapter entitled The Quarter Deck where he nails a Spanish ounce to the mast and says, whosoever of ye raises me that same white whale, he shall have this gold ounce, my boys!
As the novel progresses, Ahab s pursuit, much like Taji s for Yillah, turns to fixation. Ahab s quest for the White Whale becomes a vengeful obsession to master the whale and ultimately Nature. To Ahab, conquering the whale is conquering nature, which he views as evil. In The Chase-Third Day Ahab delivers his soliloquy in which he mocks the wind as a coward. Ahab continues by stating his superiority of nature by saying Talk not of blasphemy, man; I d strike the sun if it insulted me.
This fascination of Ahab, eventually transforms into his complete ignorance of the lives of his crew and his own life. Death to Moby-Dick! God hunt us all if we do not hunt Moby-Dick to his death! This becomes evident on several occasions when Ahab foreshadows the sinking of the Pequod and it s crew. An example of this is during one of his talks with Starbuck Some ships sail from their ports, and even afterwards are missing, Starbuck! It seems as though the only member of the crew who recognizes the madness and evil in Ahab s obsession is Starbuck. Oh! Ahab, cried Starbuck, not too late is it, even now, the third day, to desist. See! Moby-Dick seeks thee not. It is thou, thou, that madly seekest him! Starbuck, in the novel represents society and it s views of the actual objective of the Pequod.
As the reader sees in the climax of the story, Ahab s quest for conquering nature ends with his death by hemp to Moby Dick. However, Ahab is only driven by revenge and his internal struggle between good and evil. In Moby Dick, Melville presents evil revealed in nature itself.
Not only does Moby Dick appear evil in the novel, but also nature as a whole is the evil. Melville describes Moby Dick as being malevolent, with great ferocity, cunning, and is believed to be immortal by his hunters. Melville continues unwonted magnitude, nor his remarkable hue, not yet his deformed lower jaw, that so much invested the whale with natural terror, as that unexampled, intelligent malignity. All of these descriptions suggest the evil found in Moby Dick.
Melville presents Moby Dick as gargantuan in size and strength suggesting an omnipotent power, such as the force of evil. Melville presents Moby Dick as the color of white or the absence of color. The whiteness of the whale also suggests the absence of good
For Ishmael, Moby Dick might have seemed the gliding great demon of the seas of life. During the encounter with the White Whale and the crewman in the boats, Moby Dick seemed combinedly possessed by all the angles that fell from Heaven. This quote from The Chase-Third Day suggests that Moby Dick is evil and possessed my demonic forces. Ahab identifies Moby Dick as being either the principle or the agent of the inscrutable but malicious power that rules the universe.5
As previously stated, Moby Dick does not serve as the main objective for Ahab; he attacks Nature itself, which also appears as being ultimately evil. Moby Dick is merely a part of this evil. One of the most recognizable agents of nature s evil in Moby Dick are the sharks that appear as Ahab enters one of the dinghies. Melville describes the sea and the sharks beneath it as having tranquil beauty and brilliance of the ocean s skin, one forgets the tiger heart that pants beneath it; and would not willingly remember, that this velvet paw but conceals a remorseless fang. 6 He continues by describing the way the sharks maliciously snapped at the blades of the oars every time they dipped into the water. 7
Of the many levels of meaning for Moby Dick, we also see the overall journey of the Pequod as having meaning in itself. The journey of the Pequod seems to reflect mainly on Ishmael. Ishmael begins his experience on the Pequod as a young man who is still young in mind. As the journey progresses, we see Ishmael not only mature physically, but mentally as well. Referring back to the themes of Redburn and White Jacket, Ishmael matures as he sees the many aspects of society on the Pequod; unfortunately, he also experiences the evil that is present in the world and the many masks it can wear. By the end of the journey, Ishmael is the only survivor of the Pequod and of all other characters, benefits the most from it. He leaves the ship having matured mentally beyond anything he had previously conceived.
Melville s readers begin to realize that his novels are not the only pieces of his work that show evil. Melville would also write several poems during his life. One of the most popular of his poems is The Maldives Shark. In this, Melville returns to the belief that evil is present in nature. The shark in the poem represents the evil in nature, much like it s place in Moby Dick. He describes the shark as having a sawpit of a mouth , charnel of maw , ghastly flank , Gorgonian head , and pit of serrated teeth. 8
In the poem, Melville introduces another aspect of nature that readers have not seen before; this is seen in the pilot fish. The pilot fish are the friendly agent of nature or evil. The pilot fish serve as guides to the shark who is phlegmatical , lazy , and lethargic . The pilot fish assist the shark in finding food in return for protection. Meanwhile, Melville depicts the shark and evil as stupid. They are friends, and friendly they guide him to prey 9 The pilot fish represent the guides of the destructive forces of nature, however, they also represent the friendly aspects of nature. They are sleek and beautiful but assist evil and therefore are a misconception for the sharks prey.
In The Confidence Man, Melville actually characterizes evil with Satan himself. Satan is the confidence man and takes form in six costumes, each time with a different attitude. There is no better way to show evil than to portray Satan as a character in literature, Satan being the epitome of evil and evil ways.
In Melville s short story of Benito Cereno, Captain Delano appears to cope with evil aboard the ship Bachelor s Delight. The ship s captain, Don Benito, refuses to confront evil and ultimately withdrawals to a monastery in order to escape it. The rebelling Negroes of the story, especially Babo who serves as the mastermind of the group all appear evil. Babo seems to actually enjoy evil and realizes that evil is most effective when disguised as good or innocence.
Melville s portrayal of the ignorance of evil is shown once again in Billy Budd. Billy Budd joins the crew of the H.M.S Indomitable and is eventually accused of conspiring to mutiny by Claggart, the conspiring evil of the crew. Billy strikes a blow to Claggart, killing him. For this crime, he ultimately hangs. By doing this, Melville shows that Billy, like Ahab, is unable to cope with evil and commits evil in return, to lash out at it and eventually become part of it. Unfortunately, Melville would not see the success of Billy Budd. He would die September 28th, 1891. Billy Budd would be published posthumously in 1924.
Herman Melville s writings set him in a category of his own in American literature. The rendering of evil and his great detail on this subject place him, ultimately among the greatest authors of all time. His creation of classic characters and their relation to good and evil help to bring his writings to life and make them as timeless as they have become. Through Melville s writings, he brings forth the enigma of the origin of evil and it s power over the innocent. Still the ancient question remains: how is evil created and what causes men to pursue evil, and ultimately, how is it destroyed? . Perhaps the only one who could comprehend this profound power is Herman Melville himself.