History is fiction, fiction history : questions of history formation in Melville's Moby-Dick

UNCW Author/Contributor (non-UNCW co-authors, if there are any, appear on document)
Daniel P. Walden (Creator)
The University of North Carolina Wilmington (UNCW )
Web Site: http://library.uncw.edu/
Cara Cilano

Abstract: Golo Mann, who is recognized in a recent article as one of the first historians to realize that their work “does not reproduce ‘what actually happened’ so much as represent it from a particular point of view (Burke, “History of Events” 290), describes the ideal historian as someone who must “swim with the stream of events” and tell the story as if he was there when the events occurred while analyzing them as an outside “better informed observer.” In combining these two methods, the historian must be sure to “yield a sense of homogeneity […] without the narrative falling apart” (Mann 7). While most contemporary criticism surrounding Herman Melville’s Moby-Dick focuses on various metaphorical readings, if we return to a more literal reading we see that Ishmael is Mann’s ideal historian. Not only is Ishmael carried along with the events “as though he was present” (7), he actually was present, and he does return to the events a later, better informed observer. With this in mind, an often decried literal reading of Moby-Dick adds to the current metaphorical scholarship because it sees Ishmael as a common man in a rapidly chancing society and explores how that man comes to terms with his own existence in such an impersonal world. However, because Ishmael is unsure of how to deal with the events of his past and how to capture the meaning of those events on paper, he has problems with what Mann calls the “homogeneity” of his history and cannot keep his narrative from falling apart. Through an analysis of the similarities and differences of the assumptions underlying both the creation of history and the creation of fiction, and a subsequent look at how those conventions are both obeyed and subverted in Moby-Dick, we can enhance an understanding of Melville’s novel as the narrator’s attempt to come to terms with his own traumatic past.

Additional Information

A Thesis Submitted to the University of North Carolina at Wilmington in Partial Fulfillment Of the Requirements for the Degree of Master of Arts
Language: English
Date: 2009
Historical fiction American, History in literature, Melville Herman 1819-1891 Moby Dick
Melville, Herman, 1819-1891. Moby Dick
History in literature
Historical fiction, American

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