Versions of confinement : Melville's bodies and the psychology of conquest

Goddard, Kevin Graham (2003) Versions of confinement : Melville's bodies and the psychology of conquest. PhD thesis, Rhodes University.




This thesis explores aspects of Melville’s presentation of both the whale and the human bodies in Moby-Dick and human bodies in other important novels. It argues that Melville uses his presentation of bodies to explore some of the versions of confinement those bodies experience, and by doing so, analyses the psychology which subtends that confinement. Throughout Melville’s works bodies are confined, both within literal spatial limits and by the psychology which creates and/or accepts these spatial limits. The thesis argues that perhaps the most important version of bodily confinement Melville addresses is the impulse to conquer bodies, both that of the other and one’s own. It adopts a largely psychoanalytic approach to interpreting bodies and their impulse to conquer, so that the body is seen to figure both in its actions and its external appearance the operations of the inner psyche. The figure of the body is equally prevalent in Melville’s exploration of nationalist conquest, where, as with Manifest Destiny and antebellum expansionism, the psychological and physical lack experienced by characters can be read as motivating factors in the ideology of conquest. A final important strand of the thesis is its argument in favour of a gradual shift in Melville’s interpretation of the value and possibility of genuine communion between human beings and between humans and the whale. One may read Typee as an attempt by Melville to explore the possibility of a this-worldly utopia in which human beings can return to a version of primitive interconnectedness. This exploration may be seen to be extended in Moby-Dick, particularly in Ishmael’s attempts to find communion with others and in some moments of encounter with the whales. The thesis uses phenomenology as a theory to interpret what Melville is trying to suggest in these moments of encounter. However, it argues, finally, that such encounter, or ‘intersubjectivity’ is eventually jettisoned, especially in the works after Moby-Dick. By the end of Melville’s life and work, any hope of an intersubjective utopia he may have harboured as a younger man have been removed in favour of a refusal actually to assert any final ‘truth’ about social, political or even religious experience. Billy Budd, his last body, is hanged, and his final word is silence.

Item Type:Thesis (PhD)
Uncontrolled Keywords:Herman Melville, 1819-1891|
Subjects:P Language and Literature > PR English literature
Divisions:Faculty > Faculty of Humanities > English
ID Code:2360
Deposited By: Mrs Carol Perold
Deposited On:13 Jan 2012 13:27
Last Modified:13 Jan 2012 13:27
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