Slit Throats in Melville

Michael T. Gilmore

in The War on Words

Published by University of Chicago Press

Published in print July 2010 | ISBN: 9780226294131
Published online February 2013 | e-ISBN: 9780226294155 | DOI:
Slit Throats in Melville

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The tension between pressure on free speech, a position Melville reluctantly endorsed, and passionate belief produced an array of responses in the novelist, from the self-expurgation of Typee through the linguistic defiance of Moby-Dick to the epidemic of silencing in “Benito Cereno” (1855) and the picture of a verbally evasive society of “No Trust” in The Confidence-Man. This chapter reviews these fictions and reveals Herman Melville's account of African bondage. Yet slavery and its corollary, the sign of the censor, stalk everything Melville wrote in this period; they form the self-conscious subtext of his work as well as the animating context for his genius. Typee is the novel that establishes the pattern for Melville's career: it announces the centrality of self-censorship to his work and points toward the convergence of his circumspection with the gathering storm over slavery.

Keywords: free speech; Herman Melville; Typee; Moby-Dick; The Confidence-Man; slavery

Chapter.  7261 words. 

Subjects: Literary Studies (19th Century)

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