Antitranscendentalism In Melville

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Antitranscendentalism In Melville’s Moby Dick Essay, Research Paper Melville s primary focus in his classic novel Moby Dick is the evil of mankind, a point of focus consistent with his anti-Transcendental philosophical alignment. In Moby Dick, Melville shows man s evil toward fellow man and nature through his thoroughly-developed plot and characters, and in the components of the thematic layer underlying almost every character s personal motives. Analysis of Melville s own motives help to clarify the author s reasoning behind each of the examples of man s evil in his novel. In order to fully understand his anti-Transcendental belief, it is necessary to first comprehend the origin of anti-Transcendentalism. Transcendentalism is the term linked to the Emersonian-Thoreauvian

set of beliefs which incorporated the existence of an Oversoul and the benevolent disposition of man as the default one. Such writers as Melville of this time period were opposed to the Transcendental views. The natural opposition to a theory of man s general benevolence is one of his malevolence toward everything around him; the primary idea behind anti-Transcendentalism was that all human people have a capacity for evil and that, given the proper circumstances, the evil in anyone would come forth in their actions. The plot and characters of Moby Dick contribute to its anti-Transcendental philosophy; the entire story revolves around the evil of man, which is demonstrated in practically each person portrayed in the book. The story itself is about man being pitted against nature,

as though the two were never meant to coincide peacefully. The men on the ship must fend for themselves against the harsh maritime weather and the believably evil whales which they hunt. Natural forces ravage the population of the whaling vessel; in the end, only the narrator survives. In turn, man is reciprocally evil toward nature; the men destroy the giant sea creatures for their blubber and drop the stripped carcasses back into the water. In addition to this collective evil of the people on the ship, many of the individuals are shining examples of humanity s evil themselves. Captain Ahab, the primary character in the book, makes the sole dedication in his life that of vengeance on the great white whale for which the novel is named. Ahab does, at times, show that he has a less

wicked side (signified by the scar that seemingly divides his body into two separate people), but in the end, the evil half of him overcomes his goodness. The deadly accurate main harpooneer, Queequeg, earns his living whaling and selling shrunken heads; these barbaric practices symbolize in him the evil of so-called uncivilized people. The prophet Elijah s prophecies are of the demise of the men onboard the whaling ship; he sees only the evil that comes of men s actions. Even the first mate Starbuck, a Quaker and supposedly pure of spirit, desires a mutiny against Ahab in order to save himself. It would seem that the only pure and innocent character is Ishmael, who is the only member of the doomed crew who lives to give his account. Moby Dick is clearly more than just the story

of a formidable sea creature and a crazy peg-legged ship s captain; it is an expression of its authors thoughts of the evil which resides in all men s hearts. Melville s faith in the theories of anti-Transcendentalism is the guiding principle upon which his most famous work is based.