Women, marriage, and sexuality in the work of Herman Melville: A cultural/gender study.
KeywordsMelville, Herman, 1819-1891 -- Criticism and interpretation
Women in literature
Sex in literature.
AdvisorDryden, Edgar A.
MetadataShow full item record
PublisherThe University of Arizona.
RightsCopyright © is held by the author. Digital access to this material is made possible by the University Libraries, University of Arizona. Further transmission, reproduction or presentation (such as public display or performance) of protected items is prohibited except with permission of the author.
AbstractThis dissertation examines the problem of women, marriage, and sexuality in Melville's work. The general absence of female characters in his stories, his frequent depiction of horrific marriages, and his seeming reticence about sexuality have all contributed to the long-standing critical view that his writing reveals a deep-seated hatred and fear of women. In disputing these critical commonplaces, the study argues that Melville always reinforces the importance of the sexual element in human relations. His ideas about women, marriage, and sexuality are informed by his perception of a disturbing tension between men and women in his society, and he makes the paradoxes of his culture concerning gender relations central to his work. The dissertation is organized thematically to isolate and explore the primary manifestations of sexualized human relations in Melville's work: desire, frustration, marriage, transgression, and homoeroticism. Close readings of specific stories, poems, and sections of novels suggest new interpretative trajectories based primarily on considerations of how culture influences gender and sexual meaning. The introduction surveys the tradition of Melville scholarship on the problem of women and sexuality. The sources of the prevailing negative impression concerning his attitudes are traced largely to the demands of the theoretical approaches which have dominated discussion of the sexual issues in Melville's writing. Evidence from Melville's marginalia is then offered to establish the ground for a more balanced view of his perceptions. The second chapter asserts that, for Melville, much of the difficulty of human experience can be attributed to sexual desire. Within his work he probes the psychological nature of these desires, and he interrogates the cultural codes by which desire is regulated. The next chapter, on the marriage theme, locates Melville within the nineteenth century turmoil in marriage ideologies, while chapter four is an analysis of the sexual transgression motif. The violation of cultural rules through which sexual pleasure is licensed and controlled is used metaphorically by Melville to represent the individual quest for personal or artistic freedom. The final chapter describes Melville's consistent use of figurative language associated with negative homoeroticism to dramatize disproportionate power relations between men.