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Myth in the novels of Herman Melville.

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Myth in the Novels of Herman Melville: A Study of the Functions of the Myths of Eden, the Golden Age, and Hero and Dragon in Three Novels of Herman Melville--Typee, Moby-Dick, and Billy Budd, Sailor. In Typee, Melville evokes myths of Eden and the Golden Age to present a critique of civilization. This thesis focusses on the presence and function of contrasting elements of these myths--Eden and the Fallen World, the Golden Age and Age of Iron--in the novel. These myths facilitate assessment of civilization, and heighten the significance of Tom and Toby's escape from the Dolly and their longings for the island's delights. These myths also link the primitive Typees and the Dolly's sailors, and enhance the significance of the young sailors escape from Typee. In Moby-Dick, Melville again presents a critique of civilization, again exploiting contrasting elements of the Eden myth. This myth provides an interpretative framework for specific sets of contrasting symbols (some encountered in Typee), and for the contrasted fates of Ahab and Ishmael--fates made possible owing to Melville's conception of human nature, in Moby-Dick more complex than in Typee. Melville exploits further mythical material in investigating man's confrontation with evil. The prediction in Genesis of enmity between the "seed" of Eve and the Serpent serves several functions: it illuminates Ahab's sense of Moby Dick as Evil incarnate and Ahab's consequent adoption of a mythical role in hunting Moby Dick, while Christian interpretation of the prediction affords grounds for an ironic judgement of Ahab. Allusions to myths of Hero and Dragon encourage the reader to assess critically Ahab, Moby Dick, and the hunt. In Billy Budd, Sailor, the bipartite structure of the novel determines a use of myth in the first part different from that in the second. In the first part, Melville coalesces an element of the Eden myth--the confrontation of Adam and the Serpent--with the outcome of the confrontations in the myths of Hero and Dragon. In the second part, the expectations raised by the patterning of this composite myth are dashed, thereby exacerbating the poignancy of Billy's fate. The Eden myth also provides an interpretative framework for specific sets of contrasting symbols, thereby enabling Melville to present a critique of civilization--a study of man's condition in the Fallen World.


Thesis (Ph.D.)-University of Natal, Durban, 1984.


Melville, Herman, 1819-1891--Criticism and interpretation., Theses--English.