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Title: Melville's angles of vision
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EDITORIAL COMMITTEE



Humanities Monographs


T. WALTER HERBERT, Chairman
Professor of English


RICHARD H. HIERS
Professor of Religion


PETER LISCA
Professor of English .


G. PAUL MOORE
Professor of Speech


CHARLES W. MORRIS
Professor Emeritus of Philosophy


REID POOLE
Professor of Music


C. A. ROBERTSON
Professor Emeritus of English


MELVIN E. VALK
Professor of Germanic Languages


c7~/


COPYRIGHT 1972 BY THE STATE OF FLORIDA
BOARD OF TRUSTEES OF THE INTERNAL IMPROVEMENT TRUST FUND

LIBRARY OF CONGRESS CATALOG CARD NO. 73-185795
ISBN 0-8130-0351-2


PRINTED BY STORTER PRINTING COMPANY
GAINESVILLE, FLORIDA


























For Danny, Elizabeth, and Cindy





















Preface







HIS STUDY was begun as a dissertation at the University
of Pittsburgh under the direction of Thomas L. Phil-
brick. The weaknesses of Melville's Angles of Vision are mine; the
inspiration for its existence as well as my continuing interest in
American literature are the result of Professor Philbrick's dedication
to scholarship and to his students.
I am also grateful to Robert L. Gale, Richard Tobias, Gordon
Bigelow, and John B. Pickard for reading the manuscript in its vari-
ous stages and for the invaluable criticism offered.
Especially, I want to thank my most patient critic, my wife,
Susan.










Contents


1. Introduction 1
2. Typee 7
3. Redburn 16
4. White Jacket 27
5. Pierre 39
6. Israel Potter and The Confidence-Man 49
7. Conclusion-Billy Budd, Sailor 63


vii









1


Introduction








O N SATURDAY, December 13, 1856, Herman Melville was
in Constantinople. His journal indicates that he was
up early, out looking at cemeteries. He was struck not only by the
number of cemeteries in the city, but also by the intricacy of the
streets: "Started alone for Constantinople and after a terrible long
walk, found myself back where I started. Just like getting lost in a
wood. No plan to streets. Pocket-compass. Perfect labryth [laby-
rinth]. Narrow. Close, shut in. If one could but get up aloft, it would
be easy to see one's way out. If you could get up into tree. Soar out
of the maze. But no. No names to the streets no more than to nat-
ural allies among the groves. No numbers. No anything."' Much had
changed in Melville's thinking and writing during the ten years pre-
ceding December 1856, but the concern with perspective, the im-
plications of the relationship between place and vision, never ceased
to fascinate him. This fascination is also one of many ideas that
Melville shared with his contemporaries. Ralph Waldo Emerson
states it most clearly in "Nature": "Nature is made to conspire with
spirit to emancipate us. Certain mechanical changes, a small altera-
tion in our local position, apprizes us of a dualism. We are strangely
affected by seeing the shore from a moving ship, from a balloon, or
through the tints of an unusual sky. The least change in our point
of view gives the whole world a pictorial air. A man who seldom
rides, needs only to get into a coach and traverse his own town, to
turn the street into a puppet-show. The men, the women,-talking,
running, bartering, fighting,-the earnest mechanic, the lounger, the
beggar, the boys, the dogs, are unrealized at once, or, at least,
wholly detached from all relation to the observer, and seen as ap-
1. Journal of a Visit to Europe and the Levant: October 11, 1856-May 6,
1857, ed. Howard C. Horsford (Princeton, 1955), p. 79.





MELVILLE'S ANGLES OF VISION


parent, not substantial beings."2 Eperson sees the effect of per-
spective as a liberating influence, freeing man to the possibility of
transcending the limitations of his existence. Melville does not
draw the same conclusion; to him perspective forces man to realize
his limitations.
The implications of perspective, both philosophical and artistic,
have long been recognized as significant in the work of such English
writers as Carlyle, Hardy, and Browning.3 During the last twenty
years American critics increasingly have become interested in the
subject. In the early 1950s Charles Feidelson argued in Symbolism
and American Literature that symbolism is a characteristic Ameri-
can way of perceiving; Sherman Paul, in his studies of Emerson and
Thoreau, also stressed the role of the perceiver. In Emerson's Angle
of Vision Paul demonstrates the appropriateness of the transparent
eyeball image in "Nature," for "the eye was Emerson's most precious
endowment."4 Using Ortega y Gasset's distinction between "prox-
imate vision" and "distant vision," Paul examines the philosophical
implications of the eye's physical properties: "Democratic vision,
for him as well as for Ortega (and Whitman should be recalled
throughout), was the distant vision in which synthesis and related-
ness were achieved. It was the wider look in which all things were
alike or equalized. In distant vision, as in Emerson's angle of vision,
'the point of view becomes the synopsis.' In the 'optical democracy'
of distant vision, if 'nothing possesses a sharp profile; [if] every-
thing is background, confused, almost formless,' still 'the duality of
proximate vision is succeeded by a perfect unity of the whole visual
field.' "5
The eye is an image that is central, of course, in the work of other
Americans, as Pip's "I look, you look, he looks; we look, ye look, they
look" speech in Moby-Dick makes clear. About the time Paul's study
of Emerson appeared, critics began to recognize the role of the per-
ceiver in Melville's works. In 1949, for example, Howard P. Vincent
examined the narrative structure of Melville's classic in The Trying-
out of Moby-Dick. Quite naturally he and later critics dealing with
structure were forced to concern themselves with such elements as
2. Selections from Ralph Waldo Emerson, ed. Stephen E. Whicher (Bos-
ton, 1960), p. 43.
3. Browning's Ring and the Book and Hardy's The Dynasts are particularly
good examples of works in which form reflects the influence of perspective.
4. Cambridge, Mass., 1952, p. 72.
5. Paul, p. 76.





INTRODUCTION


the cetology chapters. It became clear that an understanding of the
effects of perspective is essential for an understanding of Moby-
Dick's form, a form illustrating that where one stands physically or
psychologically-that is, the visual or mental angle from which one
views the world around him-places limits on his response to the
object of his attention. The coffin, the doubloon, and the whale are
the most obvious examples of objects which receive multiple inter-
pretations. In "The Doubloon" chapter, for example, the coin (the
object of attention) remains unchanged while various members
of the crew of the Pequod respond to it from different psychological
perspectives." R. E. Watters in 1951 examined "The Meanings of
the White Whale" and emphasized Ishmael as perceiver: "This
necessity to learn and include everything in order to comprehend
the essential principle is the true artistic justification of Ishmael's
compiling the mass of whaling details given in Moby-Dick. He is
attempting to see the whale not partially, as a personified malig-
nancy, a natural peril, a challenge, or a monetary value, but om-
nisciently, as a possibly intelligible microcosm in a possibly intelli-
gible cosmos. The meaning of the white whale, for Ishmael, seems
to be the totality of all meanings."7 The consequence of these stud-
ies has been to focus critical interest in Moby-Dick on Melville's
artistic scrutiny of an object and the responses to that object rather
than on the book as a polemic arguing Melville's views of life. Mil-
ton Stern expands this interest to include more than just Moby-Dick.
In an essay published in 1958, for example, he argues that Mel-
ville's reality is a moral blank with an infinite number of possible
faces and that what Melville does is to filter a constant through di-
verse intelligence. Therefore, "the formal problem of point of view
in Melville is really a problem of philosophical theme."8
The artistic ramifications of Melville's use of point of view as
Stern defines it were examined in the 1960s by such critics as R. H.
Fogle, Warner Berthoff, Paul Brodtkorb, and Edgar Dryden. "The
world of Melville is unmeasurable and mysterious. It is one world,
but of a complex unity beyond the mind of man to fathom."9 That

6. I am using the term "psychological perspective" in order to avoid con-
fusion with "narrative point of view." I am referring to the individual's per-
sonal vision of the world occasioned by his unique mental, social, and cultural
background.
7. University of Toronto Quarterly 20 (January 1951):164.
8. "Some Techniques of Melville's Perception," PMLA 73 (June 1958):256.
9. Fogle, Melville's Shorter Tales (Norman, Oklahoma, 1960), p. 3.





MELVILLE S ANGLES OF VISION


is the assumption upon which Fogle bases his examination of Mel-
ville's tales: "Given this world, the purpose of the tales as of all
Melville's fiction is to penetrate as deeply as possible into its meta-
physical, theological, moral, psychological, and social truths ..
The form of Melville's tales is determined by the direction and
quality of his thought, in which man as the seeker for knowledge
is always pitted against a finally inscrutable reality, and this conflict
is further complicated by the need for concealment. Since every
man sees reality differently, partially, and from his own point of
view, the tales are often ambiguous."10 Fogle then focuses on the
structural elements of the stories which illustrate his thesis-for ex-
ample, the facts that in "The Two Temples" the narrator views ac-
tivity from several elevations and that in "I and My Chimney" the
chimney cannot be viewed in its entirety; both suggest that the
mind of man can never fully comprehend the object being exam-
ined. The only way to attempt a total description of something is to
examine its parts. The more angles from which one can approach
an object, the more accurate will be his final perspective-though a
perspective which reveals absolute truth remains unattainable.
Berthoff's The Example of Melville argues that Melville's "freedom
of view"-the freedom, among other things, "to become wholly ab-
sorbed in what occupied his imagination,... to receive impressions,
to entertain and discard thoughts, to advance in understanding at
his own pace and for his own materializing ends"'l-accounts for the
structural vagaries attacked by such critics as R. P. Blackmur12 and
for the characteristic relish with which Melville goes back over the
incidents in "Benito Cereno" even after the solution has been re-
vealed. "It is in this free control of narrative succession, this precise
formal response to his story's advancing power of implication, that
we find the central compositional tact of Melville's art."13
In Ishmael's White World, one of the most significant recent
books on Moby-Dick, Paul Brodtkorb properly contends that the
story is Ishmael's, not Melville's, and that it is with the narrator's
perspective that critics must deal. If there are inconsistencies in the
book, Ishmael is the one who is inconsistent. We must judge him be-

10. Fogle, pp. 4-5.
11. Princeton, 1962, p. 18.
12. "The Craft of Herman Melville," Virginia Quarterly Review 14 (Spring
1938):266-82.
13. Berthoff, p. 158.







fore we judge Melville. This critical response, unlike that expressed
in Lawrence Thompson's Melville's Quarrel with God, allows the
critic to shift his concern from Melville's philosophy to Melville's
art. According to Brodtkorb, if what we find in nature depends
upon individual perception, it is of "fundamental importance to
take subjectivity into account in reading Melville; and though most
Melville critics do, by and large they do so explicitly only when
necessary to affirm or deny some particular point in some particular
book. My attempt here is to take it into systematic account through-
out one book."'1 What Brodtkorb's and Fogle's books do for an ap-
preciation of Melville as artist is to demonstrate that the central
principles of Melvillean thought, the search for truth with the con-
stant awareness that no single answer can be final, are supported
by the way in which Melville has constructed his art.
If the approach of critics like Brodtkorb is correct, then the func-
tion of perspective in works of the Melville canon would seem to
offer a fruitful field of investigation. I propose to study several of
these works as the products of an artist concerned with the structure
of his art, an artist who sought to reflect meaning in form. I have
not included for separate discussion Omoo, Mardi, or Moby-Dick al-
though an analysis of the function of perspective in Omoo and
Mardi would be extremely valuable to an understanding of Mel-
ville working with his craft, exploring perspective, but ultimately
failing to achieve an organic structure because a strong narrative
voice is absent. I have not included Moby-Dick, because I wish the
discussion in each chapter to be as complete as possible, and a de-
tailed study of the ramifications of applying my thesis to Moby-
Dick would necessarily be so extensive as to go beyond the limita-
tions of this monograph. The novels I deal with were selected
because they permit a careful examination of works that illustrate
Melville's developing awareness of the implications of perspective.
Individual studies of perspective in Moby-Dick and Clarel need to
be made, but for the present I wish to emphasize the significance
of perspective during the decade preceding Melville's 1856 Journal
entry and to suggest how his handling of perspective reflects the
changes that were taking place in his thinking. After its simplest
and most physical form in Typee, Melville increasingly became in-
terested in the psychological implications of physical perspective.


14. New Haven and London, 1965, p. 154.


5


INTRODUCTION




















6 MELVILLE'S ANGLES OF VISION
White Jacket is an excellent example of that interest. By the time
he was writing The Confidence-Man, Melville had become aware
of further implications, the power of one who could manipulate
perspective. A second passage from Emerson's "Nature," a few lines
beyond the one quoted above, speaks of the difference between the
sensual man and the poet; this difference also distinguishes Tommo
in Typee from Melville's master poet, the confidence man: "He
[the poet] unfixes the land and the sea, makes them revolve around
the axis of his primary thought, and disposes them anew. Possessed
himself by a heroic passion, he uses matter as symbols of it. The
sensual man conforms thoughts to things; the poet conforms things
to his thoughts. The one esteems nature as rooted and fast; the
other, as fluid, and impresses his being thereon."15
15. Selections from Ralph Waldo Emerson, p. 44.






2

Typee






TOMMO, the central figure in Melville's first novel, Typee,
can quite easily be seen as Emerson's sensual man.
Tommo is aware only of things and relates to them as rooted and
fast. Much of the difficulty that he encounters during the course of
the novel is the result of his inability to realize the fluidity of the
natural world and man. Tommo is a young man who feels very
certain about himself and his world; his confidence stems from the
fact that he relies upon what he sees. As a result, Melville's main
concern in the novel is to present, in the foreground of the action,
the world as viewed by Tommo; but because Tommo is narrator as
well as central character, that foreground is often all the reader is
given. However, Melville handles the physical background so as to
continually remind the reader how deceptive is one man's vision.
The most effective chapters in the book are the opening nine. If
Tommo's view is to be important, Melville must use the opening to
define that view. In these chapters Melville carefully illustrates the
necessity for one to develop an awareness of something other than
himself, to become aware of the physical world in which he lives
and the rules which govern his perception of that world. Thus,
there are two interrelated concerns being developed in these nine
chapters: a definition of Tommo's personality, achieved by allowing
him to describe himself; and an examination of his physical environ-
ment, which is a great deal more than mere background. Melville
brings these two concerns together in Tommo's confidence in his
ability to escape from the Dolly and flee to the safety of the moun-
tains. His confidence develops, however, from the illusion created
by his initial physical position aboard the Dolly while still at sea.
Prior to that escape, Melville uses perspective in background
scenes to illustrate the limitations of a single viewpoint. The first
chapter, for example, relates two anecdotes which are amusing but





MELVILLE'S ANGLES OF VISION


apparently digressive. In both instances, however, Melville estab-
lishes a world in which personal values are relative to cultural back-
ground. The anecdote of King Mowanna's queen is built around
contrasting attitudes toward decorum. The French receive the king
and queen because they are satisfied that the royal personages will
conduct "themselves with suitable dignity."' When Mowanna ap-
pears, the tattooing of his face suggests goggles which in turn "sug-
gested some ludicrous ideas." But terms such as "suitable" and
"ludicrous" have meaning only in relation to their speaker. The em-
barrassment which follows the queen's display of her tattooed but-
tocks develops quite naturally when two or more individuals view
the same act from two entirely different social perspectives.
In Chapter 2 Melville gives further background scenes, this time
illustrating the effect of physical place on one's judgments. Once
they enter the bay of Nukuheva, Tommo is confronted with a scene
in which "strange outcries and passionate gesticulations" suggest
that "the islanders were on the point of flying at one another's
throats, whereas they were only amicably engaged in disentangling
their boats" (p. 13). Later, distance leads him to mistake native
swimmers for coconuts and young girls in the water for a shoal of
fish. Such mistakes in judgment are, of course, very normal, but
Melville presents us with this world in which perspective is as nat-
ural as gravity through a narrator who is unaware of its effect.
Tommo relates the anecdote of Mowanna and his queen as some-
thing of a humorous prelude to his denunciation of a white civiliza-
tion. By the end of the book, he sees that the native world too is
limited, but in the opening he can only see the foolishness of civili-
zation. He is unable to recognize the importance of his anecdote or
understand the implications of his mistakes with regard to the na-
tive swimmers. We are not surprised, therefore, to see him guide
his own actions without regard to the effect of perspective.
His own eager anticipation of land and of going ashore results
from his having been aboard a ship for six months. The land he and
his fellow sailors anxiously await as the book opens are the Marquesa
Islands, in particular the island of Nukuheva. During the first two
chapters, while Tommo relates his anecdotes and begins his denun-
ciation of civilization, his ship, the Dolly, moves closer and closer to

1. Typee: A Peep at Polynesian Life, ed. Harrison Hayford, Hershel Par-
ker, and G. Thomas Tanselle (Evanston, Illinois, 1968), p. 7. All subsequent
references to Typee will be to this edition and will appear in the text.


8







its harbor in the bay of Nukuheva. As it does so, naturally distance
narrows and physical perspective is altered. Melville conveys this
change by continually narrowing Tommo's field of vision, moving
from a general to a particular description of the island. Tommo's
description begins with a broad statement of the history of the Mar-
quesas themselves. Soon this history of the whole gives way to a
statement of the geographical location of the Washington group, of
which Nukuheva is one island. As the distance between the Dolly
and Nukuheva narrows, the perspective changes and the definition
becomes more physical. The geographical location is followed by a
statement of the length and breadth of Nukuheva itself, its number
of harbors, and the names of its tribes. Finally, because they have
approached the island from the side opposite their harbor, they sail
halfway around, and Tommo's description becomes a visual one.
The first two chapters, therefore, are structured almost entirely
around instances of perspective and its influence upon human vi-
sion. They also present us with a narrator whose personality is char-
acterized by self-assurance. In spite of perspective, Tommo forms
conclusions based upon appearances and acts impetuously on the
basis of those conclusions. As a result, he all too willingly tosses
aside the civilized for the barbarian world. Were he to realize that
his feelings are the result of six months at sea as well as his social
background, he might not be quite so anxious to rush from one
world to another.
"Having made up my mind, I proceeded to acquire all the infor-
mation I could obtain relating to the island and its inhabitants, with
a view of shaping my plans of escape accordingly" (p. 23). But
such plans, as he will soon learn, are only based on appearance.
"The beautiful aspect of the shore is heightened by deep and ro-
mantic glens, which come down to it at almost equal distances, all
apparently radiating from a common centre" (pp. 23-24). Like
Melville in the maze-like streets of Constantinople, Tommo feels
that if he can just "get up aloft, it would be easy to see one's way
out." Once at that "common centre" he will be able to look down
and discover which valley is inhabited by Happar (good) and
which by Typee (bad).
Melville's fictional account of Tommo's adventures on Nukuheva
differs markedly from his own brief stay there. Perhaps none of the
alterations is more significant than that dealing with the journey
from the Dolly to the Typee Valley, and yet it is one of the altera-


Typee


9





MELVILLE S ANGLES OF VISION


tions to receive the least attention." In Chapters 6 through 9, we
are presented with the first account of a Melville hero who climbs
aloft, filled with confidence in himself and anticipation for what he
will discover. Immediately before their escape, Tommo relates fur-
ther examples of his and Toby's careful planning, which relies "upon
the fruits of the island to sustain us wherever we might wander"
(p. 36) and presupposes their very freedom to make plans: "In all
this the leading object we had in view was to seclude ourselves
from sight until the departure of the vessel; then to take our chance
as to the reception the Nukuheva natives might give us; and after
remaining upon the island as long as we found our stay agreeable,
to leave it the first favorable opportunity that offered" (p. 33). As
soon as they leave the Dolly, however, Tommo and Toby begin to
encounter those elements not included in their plans. The heavy
rainfall does prevent casual encounters with the natives, as Tommo
says, but it also impedes their progress. Still, however, they remain
confident: "'Now Toby, not a word, nor a glance backward, till we
stand on the summit of yonder mountain' (p. 37). They are then
confronted with a mass of steel-like reeds; this event drives Tommo
into a frenzy because it is an obstacle he "had so little anticipated"
(p. 38). Finally they get up aloft; they reach what seems "to be the
highest land on the island" and gaze down on the bay below. What
they see, in addition to a lovely bay, are natives who look like pig-
mies and huts that look like baby-houses-all due to perspective.
They also experience "a sense of security" which is just as much the
result of distance. In reality the natives are not pigmies, the huts
baby-houses, or Tommo and Toby secure. They have merely ex-
changed the dangers associated with one physical place for those of
another. "I had supposed, with Toby, that immediately on gaining
the heights we should be enabled to view the large bays of Happar

2. Charles R. Anderson quotes the Reverend Titus Coan, who in 1867 fol-
lowed the same path that Melville and Toby did in their own trip from Nuku-
heva to Typee. Coan's account indicates that there was a well-worn path be-
tween the valleys, though one that Melville probably missed, and that it is
only a four-hour climb from one to the other. Anderson felt that this actuality
dissipates "to some extent the dramatic atmosphere of Melville's escape and
even throws some doubt on the entire fabric of Typee" (Melville in the South
Seas [New York, 1939], p. 114). It should, rather, force us to examine the
narrative function of these pages within the fabric of the book and ask why
Melville chose to expand this adventure in the manner he did. Coan's visit
does indeed lessen the dramatic atmosphere of Melville's escape, but, after all,
Typee is not about Melville's escape.


10







and Typee reposing at our feet on one side, in the same way that
Nukuheva lay spread out below on the other. But here we were
disappointed. Instead of finding the mountain we had ascended
sweeping down in the opposite direction into broad and capacious
valleys, the land appeared to retain its general elevation" (p. 41).
Evidently, Tommo assumes, they are not high enough. Nowhere are
there any of those fruit trees upon which they "had relied with such
certainty." Tommo's earlier plans are inadequate, for the island is
not built as it had appeared from the sea. They have removed them-
selves from the captain and crew of the Dolly, but now they face
new problems.
Tommo, however, does not draw these conclusions. He continues
to operate as though the world existed as he conceived of it aboard
the Dolly. Not able to decide whether the first beautiful valley they
see is Happar or Typee, Tommo suggests that "beyond this ridge
might lie a capacious and untenanted valley, abounding with all
manner of delicious fruits" (p. 51). What they find, however, is that
beyond one ridge lies another. Though presented with little choice
in pursuing a route, they set out. "At last we gained the top of the
second elevation, the loftiest of those I have described as extending
in parallel lines between us and the valley we desired to reach. It
commanded a view of the whole intervening distance; and, dis-
couraged as I was by other circumstances, this prospect plunged
me into the very depths of despair. Nothing but dark and fearful
chasms, separated by sharp-crested and perpendicular ridges as far
as the eye could reach" (p. 53). The physical realities of the island's
interior simply do not allow Tommo and Toby to control the direc-
tion of their movements. Impatient, reduced to a reckless, careless
state of mind, in contrast to that earlier condition in which they had
confidently formulated plans aboard the Dolly, they can now merely
respond to their surroundings. One ridge follows another until they
realize that, Happar or Typee, they have no choice but to descend
into the only valley they have seen. Free will, necessity, and chance
are the threads woven into the fabric of a man's life, says Ishmael
Sin Moby-Dick. Tommo and Toby are the first of the Melville char-
acters to encounter fixed necessity. To realize the significance of
their experience in the mountainous interior, one need only com-
pare with their earlier expectations their current frame of mind and
their act of hurling themselves bodily into the valley. The possibility
of getting up aloft in order to see their way out has proved to be an


Typee


11





MELVILLE S ANGLES OF VISION


illusion. Because of perspective, Tommo's vision continues to be
limited regardless of a change in his physical location.
The opening nine chapters are thus significant in defining the
vision of the narrator, a single consciousness which is confident of
its own capabilities. That confidence develops naively from a single
angle of vision in spite of the narrator's being subjected to radical
changes of physical perspective. At the end of this section Tommo
is left at the entrance to a wholly new world to which he must re-
spond, and his response occupies the major section of the book. By
his handling of distance and height in the background, in this early
section Melville equips the reader for responding to Tommo, who
continues to occupy the foreground in the coming section. Far from
being a rambling series of episodes which delays the heart of the
book, these chapters are crucial in establishing the novel's real con-
cern. They establish a frame of reference within which the narrator
examines and judges all that he sees in the valley of the Typees.
Perspective has been of such major importance thus far that we can
expect it to continue so; what the narrator soon describes is his ex-
perience with the savages. That the subject of the book is "the con-
duct of wrongly informed vision"" and not an anthropological study
of cannibals is fully supported by the way in which these opening
nine chapters are handled.
"The conduct of wrongly informed vision" develops during that
section of the book dealing with the Typees, and we continue to
get numerous examples of perspective in those chapters immedi-
ately following the trip across the interior of the island. Spying fruit
trees in the distance, for example, Tommo and Toby hurry forward.
"What a race! I hobbling over the ground like some decrepid [sic]
wretch, and Toby leaping forward like a greyhound. He quickly
cleared one of the trees on which there were two or three of the
fruit, but to our chagrin they proved to be much decayed; the rinds
partly opened by the birds, and their hearts half devoured" (p. 67).
In similar, fashion, the question as to whether the valley is Typee or
Happar is soon resolved, and Tommo discovers that "Mortarkee"
(good) is a relative term not to be applied to Happars if one hap-
pens to be standing in the valley of the Typees.
No longer looking in from the outside as he does while aboard
the Dolly or looking down from the mountains, Tommo is now
3. This phrase is used in Milton Stern's The Fine Hammered Steel of Her-
man Melville (Urbana, Illinois, 1957), p. 25.


12







within, trying to relate what he sees to his own experience. He is
the intruder, the comic figure-one who is laughed at, for example,
because of his inability to eat poee-poee. His eating habits are as
indecorous as was King Mowanna's queen's exposure of her buttocks.
He is as helpless as were the natives of Nukuheva before the guns
of the French. Such a change in physical situation should perhaps
make Tommo aware of relative values, change of place, perspective.
But of course it doesn't. He continues to operate upon a set of values
controlled by a rather fixed concept of himself and his world, all
this in spite of his adventures in the mountains. He frequently im-
poses his own values, those formed in one world, upon the natives
of Typee: "For the life of me I could not understand why a woman
should not have as much right to enter a canoe as a man .... It was
high time the islanders should be taught a little gallantry, and I
trust that the example I set them may produce beneficial effects"
(p. 133). Whether in the mass of reeds, the mountains, or the val-
ley, Tommo thrusts himself upon his surroundings, which are not
always susceptible to pressure. The result is pain, physically in his
leg and mentally in his anguish. Tommo continues to act as though
he were or should be free to determine his movement.
Eventually, some of Tommo's judgments are modified as a result
of his contact with this new world. He learns that the Typees are
neither more savage nor more backward than most whites, and he
frequently contrasts the two societies. Tommo also seems to realize
that many of the terms used in attributing values to people or things
are frequently the result only of psychological perspective. "Kory-
Kory, I mean thee no harm in what I say in regard to thy outward
adornings; but they were a little curious to my unaccustomed sight,
and therefore I dilate upon them. But to underrate or forget thy
faithful services is something I could never be guilty of, even in the
giddiest moment of my life" (p. 83). He begins to speak of an "al-
tered frame of mind" in which "every object that presented itself
to my notice in the valley struck me in a new light" (p. 126). At
such times Tommo experiences "an elasticity of mind" (p. 123)
which is accompanied by a healing of his leg. The mysterious ail-
ment, which is the result of a lack of harmony between Tommo and
his surroundings, is in complete contrast to the healthy state of the
harmonious Typees. It is only during the periods when Tommo
surrenders to the beauties of the valley that the leg heals. At all
other times he is dissatisfied, trying to pass from one physical state


Typee


13





MELVILLE S ANGLES OF VISION


to another, and pain accompanies escape as it did the escapes to the
mountains and to the valley. Almost immediately after arriving in
Typee, Tommo feels "anxious to withdraw from the valley" (p. 97).
As a result, his leg grows worse and Toby's head is cut open. Only
when Tommo becomes receptive to his environment, and only as
long as he remains so, does the leg heal.
Such elasticity of mind, however, never develops in Tommo to
the extent that it does in Redburn or White Jacket. Tommo exam-
ines the Typees closely, but in spite of their lack of reserve, he
learns remarkably little. Though he discovers how breadfruit is pre-
pared, for example, the natives' mysterious taboo, their inability to
communicate, and their apparently inconsistent actions keep him
from understanding their thoughts or feelings. Ultimately they re-
main as unknown to Tommo as does the white whale to Ahab. Like
Ahab, Tommo continues to trust himself, his own ability to see. In
spite of his experiences, which have demonstrated the fallibility of
individual vision, Tommo relies upon what his eyes see. Critics have
spent a great deal of time noting the sinister implications of the
native willingness to tattoo a band across the eyelids and the upper
part of the face;4 while I think these sinister overtones are all valid,
I think one might also note that Tommo's fear of such tattooing is
consistent with his self-reliance, his personal vision, which charac-
terizes him from the beginning of the book. Tommo experiences
much but is able only to glimpse the meaning of his experience.
Typee emphasizes the boundaries to both physical and psycho-
logical perspective. The views from the Dolly, Nukuheva, the
mountains, and the Typee valley are all limited by such physical
realities as land and distance. Similarly, any choice or judgment is
in large part limited by location or background as is stressed on the
trip across the mountains, where physical boundaries are placed on
freedom of choice and movement. The Typees, too, for all their
"unbounded liberty of conscience" (p. 171), have only restricted
freedom in their walled valley surrounded by hostile tribes and
governed by rigid taboos. The valley is not an Eden; it is a land of
limited freedoms, a land of harmony that can erupt into conflict as
in the last scenes. Instead of being an ideal world, the Typee valley
is but one more response to life, one more perspective or frame of
reference upon which man can base his judgments.
4. Milton Stern's discussion in The Fine Hammered Steel is particularly
well done.


14













The narrative closes with Tommo's return to the sea, his perspec-
tive of Nukuheva no longer what it was in the beginning. During
the course of the book Tommo has physically shifted his position
with regard to the island several times, and his psychological per-
spective toward it and its inhabitants has been forced to shift ac-
cordingly. He views the island from several angles, each of which
demonstrates the limitations of the former angles and itself. Ulti-
mately, it becomes evident that a complete description of Nuku-
heva would be impossibly comprehensive, for it would have to in-
clude all the psychological as well as all the physical perspectives.
It is enough if by the end of his experience Tommo realizes the
error of forming absolute judgments of man-or islands-based
upon single and, therefore, necessarily limited perspectives.
In Typee, Melville's handling of perspective in its simplest terms
is evident. Of all his novels, Typee is most concerned with the in-
fluence of such physical realities as place and distance upon indi-
vidual judgment. In the books to be examined now, we always have
heroes who climb up mastheads or buildings, but in none of them
is topography so important as it is in Typee. Charles Feidelson
states that the "topography of Typee is metaphoric,"5 but he is
speaking of the fact that Tommo moves from sea to land and back
to sea. I feel that the topography of the island itself is structurally
significant, that the physical movement from the level of the sea
up into the interior of the mountains and down into a walled val-
ley is used by Melville as background to reflect and aid in exam-
ining the mind of his narrator. As we turn from Typee to Redburn,
White Jacket, and Pierre, we discover that Melville becomes in-
creasingly concerned with psychological perspective.
5. Symbolism and American Literature (Chicago, 1953), p. 165.


Typee


15






3


Redburn






LIKE THAT OF Typee, the unity of Redburn is achieved by
focusing on a single individual's response to his environ-
ment. Wellingborough Redburn's initial angle of vision is influenced
by physical and social circumstances and forced to undergo major
changes during the course of the book. Some of these changes are
the result of shifts in physical place; others occur when Redburn
meets individuals whose psychological perspectives differ signifi-
cantly from his own. He ultimately learns that single responses are
subject to the inevitable limitations of physical and psychological
perspective. From his small house in a Hudson River village, Red-
burn's psychological perspective is that of one particularly suscepti-
ble to youthful imaginings. Goodness and simplicity, the qualities
which lead his elder brother to present him with a shooting jacket,
seem to be characteristics of his early life. His loving family as well
as his membership in the Juvenile Total Abstinence Association
and the Anti-Smoking Society suggest a boy who has been sheltered
from the evils of the world-membership in a temperance society
poses few problems for one who is too young to drink. Similarly, his
romantic obsession with ships and foreign lands results in large part
from his lack of familiarity with them. Dwelling on ship advertise-
ments in newspapers, he delights in practically every word. He pic-
tures foreign buildings and people, "fine old lands, full of mossy
cathedrals and churches, and long, narrow, crooked streets without
side-walks, and lined with strange houses."'
Quite possibly his romantic longings are a result of the difficulties
that forced his family to move from their New York home to a
sheltered country village, circumstances which have caused him to
1. Redburn: His First Voyage, ed. Harrison Hayford, Hershel Parker, and
G. Thomas Tanselle (Evanston, Illinois, 1969), p. 5. All subsequent references
to Redburn will be to this edition and will appear in the text.
16







distrust the world he has known and to seek security either by with-
drawing or by yearning for a different life in hope of regaining the
family's lost pride. "Cold, bitter cold as December, and bleak as its
blasts, seemed the world then to me; there is no misanthrope like a
boy disappointed; and such was I, with the warm soul of me flogged
out by adversity" (p. 10). It is fitting, therefore, that one of his
fondest memories should be that of a fort at the entrance of New
York harbor, for it is not only "very wonderful and romantic" (p.
35), but it is also a symbol of insular security. Within its walls he
used to watch grazing cows and frisking calves, and from its tur-
rets he could see ships returning or sailing out to sea. Such a physi-
cal position is similar to that which he has at home, secure in the
comfort provided by his family. Appropriately, therefore, he is in-
troduced in the act of receiving from his brother a warm and pro-
tective shooting jacket. When he leaves home for New York, having
wrapped himself and his romantic dreams in his shooting jacket, he
carries with him a gun and defends himself against the passengers
aboard the steamboat, who "all looked stony-eyed and heartless."
They "cast toward me their evil eyes and cold suspicious glances"
(p. 12). As with Tommo's reasons for leaving the Dolly, the truth
of such accusations is never established and, in fact, is unimpor-
tant, though his defensive attitude is important. He feels that he is
at once threatened by and superior to the world at large. When he
boards the Highlander, he mistakenly believes that Captain Riga is
someone who will recognize his background and see that it elevates
him above the other sailors.
As soon as he leaves home, however, his physical situation
changes; thus the perspective from which he views the world does
too. He finds that the view from New York City is unlike that from
the country. People look differently at the things around them. In-
stead of being impressed by Redburn's background, for example,
Captain Riga takes advantage of it to avoid advancing him three
dollars of his rightful pay. His contact with the pawnbrokers forces
him to recognize the fact that his own perspective is not entirely
shared by others. Unable to sell his gun "for a fair price to chance
customers" (p. 19), Redburn is pleased to find a "benevolent little
old man" (p. 20) who offers to pawn it for him. But pawnbrokers
do not regard money as does Tom Legare; and Redburn is not only
unable to get his fair price, but also is cheated out of fifty cents
during the course of the transaction.


Redburn


17





MELVILLE'S ANGLES OF VISION


When at last he boards a ship, an action he has dreamed of for
years, he discovers that it has little resemblance to La Reine, the
glass ship so long admired. On the first night he is lonesome and
hungry in the damp, dark forecastle, "without light or fire, and
nothing to lie on but the bare boards of my bunk" (p. 25). The next
day the sailors begin arriving, and Redburn finds that he knows
nothing about ships. The incidents that occur as the Highlander
crosses the Atlantic reinforce this contrast between expectation and
reality. Redburn's physical change from land to sea requires him to
realize the folly of his earlier imaginings about life aboard ship. La
Reine has "beautiful little glass sailors . with hats and shoes on
... and curious blue jackets with a sort of ruffle round the bottom"
(p. 8). The sailors of the Highlander, however, drink and swear
and consider him a fool. The advantages of his background, which
he thought sufficient to elevate him above his companions, are of
no value to him; in fact, they are handicaps. Just as Tommo and
Toby find that for all their civilization they are unable to eat poee-
poee, Redburn finds that in spite of his artistocratic virtues, he has
neglected to provide himself with proper utensils and clothing and
is completely unable to understand the orders of the officers. He can
communicate no more than Tommo can, for the sailors' jargon is
almost a foreign language.
In Typee, the significance of perspective is frequently shown in
incidents in which physical place is changed with regard to a single
object. Such incidents also occur in Redburn. One night, for ex-
ample, the narrator climbs the mast and views the ship from that
angle. He finds that a calm sea to someone standing on deck can
effect a sizable roll to one on the mast, a truth that many Melvillean
heroes would do well to realize, for what appears to be a funda-
mental fact may often be only the result of where one is standing.
Any judgment of the sea's movement must be relative to one's phys-
ical position. Similarly, in Chapter 13, during his second day out of
port, Redburn remarks that he can hardly believe that he is sailing
in the same ship he has been in during the night, "when every thing
had been so lonely and dim; and I could hardly imagine that this
was the same ocean, now so beautiful and blue, that during part of
the night-watch had rolled along so black and forbidding" (p. 63).
Under such changed circumstances, his new surroundings seem
somewhat less terrifying. He marvels at the names sailors have for
the very smallest pieces of rope and concludes what he could not


18







have known at home standing before his glass ship: "People who
have never gone to sea for the first time as sailors, can not imagine
how puzzling and confounding it is. It must be like going into a
barbarous country, where they speak a strange dialect, and dress in
strange clothes, and live in strange houses" (p. 65). It is a new
world that he has entered, one to which he must adapt. But he is
still out of place just as Tommo is after leaving Nukuheva. When
he is suddenly set "to clean out the chicken coops, and make up the
beds of the pigs in the long-boat" (p. 66), he once again becomes
defensive and self-conscious, seeing himself as a slave with "vulgar
and brutal men lording it over me . Yes, Yes, blow on, ye breezes,
and make a speedy end to this abominable voyage!" (p. 66).
But Redburn learns to adapt in a way Tommo never does. Find-
ing that life on board ship is not as he has expected and that the
values of the shore are not those of the sea, he tries to become part
of the crew. Though he is still very much influenced by his original
perspective and is unable to share, for example, the indifference of
the captains when a ship from Hamburg passes the Highlander-
"To them, I suppose, the great Atlantic Ocean was a puddle" (p.
76)-he realizes that his changed surroundings demand a changed
response on his part. His inadequate clothes are cut to fit, and he
trades his silk handkerchief for a half-gallon iron pot. When a storm
provides the sailors with another occasion for teasing him, he is no
longer gullible. "I was now getting a little too wise for this foolish
kind of talk" (p. 102). By the end of the voyage, the height of the
mast does not terrify him, and he shows the "utmost alacrity in run-
ning aloft" (p. 114). The rolling of the ship, which contributed to
his earlier fear, now "imparts a pleasant sort of vitality" (p. 115).
Even the orders, initially thought to be given by brutal overlords in
meaningless language, begin to make sense. He uses the sailors' vo-
cabulary himself in describing the "great art" of steering a ship, in
surveying the furniture of the quarterdeck, and in listing the talents
of an able seaman.
One of the most significant changes in Redburn's basic attitude
is his growing awareness of the sailors as individuals. Earlier he
tends to characterize people in terms of groups. With the exception
of Mr. Jones, a friend of Redburn's brother, we learn little during
the early part of the book of the narrator's thoughts about specific
individuals. His family, the steamboat passengers, the pawnbrokers,
and the sailors are described as though they were representatives


Redburn


19





MELVILLE'S ANGLES OF VISION


of particular classes. With Chapter 12, however, individuals begin
to emerge who have psychological perspectives of their own. Jack-
son, "the foul lees and dregs of a man" (p. 58); the Belfast man, "a
remarkably robust and good-humored young man" (p. 59); Blunt
and his dream book; Larry, a reserved member of the crew with an
impressive knowledge of whales; and, of course, Captain Riga are
the more prominent seamen.
When secondary characters appear in Typee-individuals such
as Toby, Kory-Kory, and Fayaway-their perspectives are not de-
veloped. The result is a consistently maintained sense of the nar-
rator's superiority to those around him. In Redburn, on the other
hand, the final effect of the book depends in part on the increasing
emphasis placed on the perspective of individuals other than the
central figure. Harry Bolton, for example, is of major significance in
the later portion of the novel; so also are Jackson and Riga. As they
become more important, Redburn becomes less so. In the final sec-
tion of the book, that dealing with the trip home from Liverpool,
Redburn is not nearly so central as he is in the first half, and by the
end the reader sees him as one among many characters. This struc-
tural development reinforces a similar thematic development, for
Redburn's increasing contact with and awareness of other people
force him to see that his own perspective is only one of many. Such
a realization on his part is, of course, in contrast to that self-
conscious defensiveness with which he began and in contrast to the
defensiveness which Tommo maintains.
A brief scene, therefore, like the one in which whales are sighted
from the Highlander, is not an unnecessary intrusion, for it permits
the narrator to contrast his perspective with that of Larry, the
whaleman. Because of his experience, Larry can objectively discuss
the kinds of whales and is not at all impressed by their appearance.
Redburn is also unimpressed, but because he expects whales to be
much larger. His imagination is disappointed. Though the responses
are similar, they stem from entirely different perspectives. The in-
troduction of Larry occasions that of yet another character, "Gun-
Deck," because the two regard civilization from opposing perspec-
tives. Larry has "a sentimental distaste for civilized society" (p.
100), but Gun-Deck has "seen the civilized world, and loved it;
found it good, and a comfortable place to live in" (p. 101). What is
particularly important is that Redburn is a member of a crew which
reacts to situations from a variety of psychological perspectives; he,


20







therefore, realizes that his is not the only way of looking at the
world.
Just before the Highlander reaches England, two passengers are
briefly introduced, one of whom is a small boy from the steerage
section whose appearance provides Redburn with an opportunity
to see some of the humanity of the sailors that might otherwise
have gone unnoticed. Their concern is shown by the clothes they
make for the boy and utensils they provide. The most significant re-
sponse comes from Jackson: "I must here mention, as some relief to
the impression which Jackson's character must have made upon the
reader, that in several ways he at first befriended this boy; but the
boy always shrunk from him; till, at last, stung by his conduct, Jack-
son spoke to him no more; and seemed to hate him, harmless as he
was, along with all the rest of the world" (pp. 112-13). Perhaps
there is a suggestion here that Jackson's general misanthropy stems
also from a rebuff by the world itself. Possibly it has shrunk from
him, just as it shrank from Redburn and his family when they were
forced to leave New York. The young boy rejects Jackson, who re-
sponds with a hatred that is in large part defensive, a stance
adopted by Redburn in the beginning. Jackson evidently has more
human qualities than are readily apparent, for he would have liked
to befriend the boy. It is very much as though Melville takes one
part of Redburn's initial attitude and creates a character who em-
bodies it. Jackson is not the incarnation of evil; rather this scene sug-
gests that he is a man who responds to the judgments of the world
in a human way, as does Redburn earlier. Redburn, however, comes
to recognize the limited nature of such a defensive perspective.
"As I began to learn my sailor duties, and show activity in run-
ning aloft, the men, I observed, treated me with a little more con-
sideration, though not at all relaxing a certain air of professional
superiority" (p. 120). By the end of his first voyage he no longer
resents that air of superiority. Instead, he takes pride in what he
has accomplished and admires the talents of his companions. He
has lived aboard ship and been forced to realize the limitations of
his earlier perspective. The sailors are no longer viewed as glass
dolls or inconsiderate barbarians, for he sees their idiosyncrasies,
fears, superstitions, abilities, and pleasures.
After about thirty days at sea, Redburn comes on deck one morn-
ing to be told that Ireland is in sight. "Ireland in sight! A foreign
country actually visible!" (p. 124). This is the beginning of Chap-


Redburn


21





MELVILLE S ANGLES OF VISION


ter 27, a chapter which masterfully illustrates Melville's use of per-
spective and which presages much of what Redburn learns during
his visit to the much-dreamed-of foreign country. Having a "vague
idea" that the shore "would be something strange and wonderful,"
he peers hard at a "bluish, cloud-like spot to the northeast. Was that
Ireland? Why, there was nothing remarkable about that; nothing
startling. If that's the way a foreign country looks, I might as well
have staid at home" (p. 124). As they draw near the shore, he
dreams of Irish heroes and poets and "the gallant Albion, tost to
pieces on the very shore now in sight." What he sees, however, is
"a very ordinary looking" fishing boat. When he realizes that the
fisherman is a real foreigner, he decides that the man does indeed
look strange. After drawing closer, this first representative of a for-
eign country calmly proceeds-in the best Yankee fashion-to trick
the Americans out of fifteen fathoms of towline.
As the Highlander passes Wales, Redburn again begins to dream
and thinks of the Prince of Wales and the queen who rules over the
country. However, he discovers with disappointment that "the gen-
eral effect of these mountains was mortifyingly like the general
effect of the Kaatskill Mountains on the Hudson River" (p. 126). A
"real live" English pilot comes on board only to begin swearing "in a
language quite familiar" (p. 126). The ship draws near the Liver-
pool harbor with Redburn "trying to summon up some image" (p.
126) of the city. But there is nothing marvelous about the dingy
warehouses. In fact, they bear "a most unexpected resemblance to
the ware-houses along South-street in New York" (p. 127). Larry,
however, the civilization-hating whaleman, is so used to foreign
countries that are little more than swamps and bamboo huts that he
is "accordingly astonished and delighted" (p. 128); and England
gathers great esteem in his mind. The other sailors, those who have
made several trips to Liverpool, are naturally unimpressed, for they
view the city from still another perspective. The little scene be-
tween Max and Sally, which concludes the chapter, serves nicely
to reinforce Redburn's new view of this foreign country, a country
that looks remarkably like New York and whose people speak and
act remarkably like Americans-so much so, in fact, that Max has a
wife in each port.
Finally in England, Redburn is able to view a foreign country
from the physical perspective of someone inside. The result is that
the country's imagined romantic characteristics fail to materialize.
His father's guidebook, the symbol of the way in which Redburn


22






looked at Liverpool earlier, is as limited by time as Redburn's per-
spective has been by place. The guidebook, therefore, is a symbol
not only of perspective, but also of the relativity of truth. Mel-
ville's use of perspective as a structural device, in other words,
does not restrict the meaning of his work to the contrast between
appearance and reality, though certainly that is a part of his writ-
ings, as Tommo's expectations aboard the Dolly or Redburn's while
at home in the country demonstrate. But Melville's central figures
do not move from positions of error to those of truth. Characters
such as Tommo, Redburn, and Ishmael experience growth as a con-
tinuing process. The lesson learned by Tommo and that taught by
"The Doubloon" chapter in Moby-Dick are that the individual's
single perspective, whether it be his first or his last, can never en-
compass all aspects of an object. The best one can do is to recognize
that other perspectives exist. Conversely, the error of a Jackson, an
Ahab, a Pierre, or even a Vere is to assume that a single viewpoint
is correct. Redburn's experiences aboard the Highlander already
stress the weakness of making absolute judgments: the calmness of
the sea depends on where one is standing; the impression made by
a foreign country depends upon the observer's background. The
guidebook is part of that relative world. As a guide to the present,
it is useless, for Liverpool has changed drastically in the years since
the book's publication. Redburn's mistake is to assume that what
was accurate once is still accurate. Even after discarding the book,
however, Redburn discovers that the way he responds to the city
is only one of many ways, just as his initial response as the High-
lander approached the English harbor was only one of many.
The importance of an individual's psychological perspective is
further illustrated by one of the most moving scenes in the book.
To Redburn, the basic difference between Liverpool and New York
is the poverty of the English city. "Every variety of want and suf-
fering here met the eye, and every vice showed here its victims" (p.
186). Four of those victims are a mother and her three children,
dying some fifteen feet below an opening in the street. After dis-
covering them, Redburn immediately seeks help, only to find that
the perspective from which he regards the situation is not shared
by others.

"She deserves it," said an old hag .. "that Betsey Jennings
deserves it-was she ever married? tell me that."
Leaving Launcelott's-Hey, I turned into a more frequented


Redburn


23





MELVILLE'S ANGLES OF VISION


street; and soon meeting a policeman, told him of the condi-
tion of the woman and the girls.
"It's none of my business, Jack," said he. "I don't belong to
that street" (p. 181).

Even the dock police tell Redburn that he is lodging his complaint
with the wrong office. Surely the conditions are as bad as Redburn
believes them to be, but the accuracy of his description is secondary
to the variety of responses that those conditions elicit. After this
scene, one cannot help being struck by the number of individual
perspectives from which the city is seen; in addition to his
own, Redburn also indicates the perspectives of Larry, Gun-Deck,
Max, the guidebook, and about half a dozen inhabitants of the
town.
Redburn's maturity develops not from his ability to reconcile a
wide variety of perspectives but from his recognition of their ex-
istence, a recognition that carries with it the willingness to admit
that perhaps his own is limited. Harry Bolton, a boy his own age
whom Redburn meets in Liverpool, is unable to admit such a limi-
tation and serves, therefore, as a foil to the narrator. Just as Jackson
has many of the characteristics of Redburn's early misanthropy, so
does Harry Bolton have a perspective remarkably similar to the
pretentiously aristocratic side of the early Redburn. Thus Melville
seems to have created two characters from the separate halves of
Redburn's initial perspective, permitting him to show the limita-
tions of both.2
Harry Bolton is similar to Redburn in both background and atti-
tude. His home is in the country, but he has lost both parents-Red-
burn's mother is yet living-and has a small income. He is obviously
the son of a gentleman and also is about to go to sea for the first
time because of domestic problems. Both youths initially look for
something new and wonderful in a foreign country. Though Harry
is more accomplished and worldly than Redburn, they have equally
romantic thoughts. Harry also wishes to "gallantly cross the Atlantic
as a sailor. There was a dash of romance in it; a taking abandon-
ment; and a scorn of fine coats, which exactly harmonized with his

2. The possibility of Jackson and Harry Bolton being aspects of a total
being is most recently discussed in Terrence G. Lish, "Melville's Redburn: A
Study in Dualism," English Language Notes 5 (December 1967):113-20.
Lish, however, views Bolton and Jackson very differently than I do.


24







reckless contempt, at the time, for all past conventionalities" (p.
218). Brought before Captain Riga, he, too, is "full of admiration at
so urbane and gentlemanly a sea-captain" (p. 220). But Harry's
weaknesses are not long in appearing. "Even in conversation, Harry
was a prodigal; squandering his aristocratic narrations with a care-
less hand; and, perhaps, sometimes spending funds of reminiscences
not his own" (p. 221). This slight suspicion of Harry's veracity is
strengthened by the whirlwind trip to London, where Redburn dis-
covers that the glitter and aristocracy of Bolton's world are largely
imaginary. The magnificent spectacle that surrounds them in Alad-
din's Palace is as spurious as the titles Harry gives to the men who
manage the gambling house.
Whatever the truth of Harry's background, and the reader is told
little, his concept of himself is not something that Harry is willing
to change. He views the world from a charmingly aristocratic per-
spective; but, when faced with the limitations of that perspective,
he responds by fleeing, the first leg of his flight being the return of
the Highlander to America. Like the early narrator, Harry sets out
full of expectations, penniless, and persecuted by the sailors. But
Harry is completely unable to respond to this new world. "Perhaps
his familiarity with lofty life, only the less qualified him for under-
standing the other extreme" (p. 253). Just as Redburn has dressed
himself inappropriately for his sea duties, Harry comes on deck one
morning "in a brocaded dressing-gown, embroidered slippers, and
tasseled smoking-cap" (p. 253). From Harry's perspective such a
wardrobe is correct for the morning watch; from the mate's it is "the
most monstrous of incongruities." Redburn quickly saw his own
foolishness, but Harry, "incensed at the want of polite refinement
in the mates and crew, ... in a pet and pique, only determined to
provoke the more; and the storm of indignation he raised very soon
overwhelmed him" (p. 254). His refusal to go into the top only ce-
ments his isolation from the crew. A landsman at sea, a man out of
place, Harry experiences all the difficulties of one who suddenly
finds himself in a new world, one in which his abilities mean noth-
ing and in which he is forced either to adjust or to be destroyed.
"Poor Harry was as the Hebrews. He, too, had been carried away
captive, though his chief captor and foe was himself" (p. 277).
When the ship finally docks, Harry is released from the sailors' op-
pression; but he immediately returns to his old ways and dresses in
his respectable clothes in preparation for a comfortable meal. With


Redburn


25
















MELVILLE S ANGLES OF VISION


Redburn's help, he tries to find work in New York; when that fails,
he flees once again.
Unlike Harry, Redburn is home at last, having seen more suffer-
ing than he ever could have imagined. The change in his perspec-
tive which occurs during the book is indicated in the following
statement: "Oh! he who has never been afar, let him once go from
home, to know what home is" (p. 300). At the end, Redburn's phys-
ical perspective, like Tommo's, is what it was in the beginning, for
he is back in the country; but his psychological perspective, unlike
Tommo's, is radically different. His initial concern was himself,
largely because of his isolated circumstances. The experience of the
book moves him physically in order to let him see a ship and a for-
eign country from a different angle. The result is an individual who
has learned the limitations of making judgments with a single per-
spective as the only frame of reference-as Jackson and Bolton do.
Redburn is able to reconcile his youthful idealism with his new
awareness of hardship. But even that is still a single angle of vision,
and Redburn's real maturity stems from his recognition of per-
spectives other than his own. The book begins with the narrator's
concern for himself; it ends with his concern for Harry Bolton, a
concern which indicates the distance Redburn has travelled.


26






4


White Jacket






HE EMPHASIS upon psychological perspective as op-
posed to physical perspective which characterizes Red-
burn and which sharply distinguishes it from Typee is even more
effectively treated in White Jacket, a book which has received little
critical attention. There is so much emphasis on what Newton Arvin
terms "lumpish blocks of straight exposition and description"1 that
the book seems to lack any meaningful organization. I suggest that
if we focus less on the Neversink and more on the narrator and
perspective, we discover an organization that is indeed meaning-
ful, one which indicates how much Melville's interest in physical
perspective is increasingly becoming related to and replaced by an
interest in psychological perspective, an interest which lies at the
heart of his next book, Moby-Dick.
Several critics examine White Jacket's purpose in the book, but
none of them uniformly relates that purpose to the movement of
the narrative. James E. Miller feels that together Redburn and
White Jacket "tell one story of the world's evil-initiation into it;
observation and sampling of it; meditation on and revulsion from
it; and, finally, baptism in it, as the protagonist discovers and ac-\
knowledges to himself and the world his place in the imperfect,"
brotherhood of mankind."2 Though Miller speaks of the protagd-
nist's isolation from others, his emphasis, like that of most critics, is
on White Jacket's fall from innocence. He speaks of Jack Chase as
"about as near perfection as Melville will ever portray" and com-
pares him to a "transfigured Harry Bolton, possessing all of his ad-
mirable qualities and none of his weaknesses." Such an interpreta-
tion suggests that White Jacket's life in the top is to be associated
with the values of innocence while the deck presents the world of
1. Herman Melville (New York, 1950), pp. 110-11.
2. A Reader's Guide to Herman Melville (New York, 1962), p. 54.
27





MELVILLE'S ANGLES OF VISION


evil. But this polarity diminishes the importance of the fact that
there is danger aloft as well as virtue and that there is humanity
on the deck as well as evil. Jack Chase has many laudable qualities,
but he is also rather arrogant and withdrawn. White Jacket's friend-
ship with Jack is not "the final crumbling of the thick-walled isola-
tion of assumed innocence," as Miller states, for that friendship
serves instead to reinforce White Jacket's isolation from the rest of
the crew. It is not until he becomes aware of both the ideals of the
top and the realities of the deck that his isolation may be said to
crumble.
Paul McCarthy, in "Symbolic Elements in White Jacket," suggests
a more meaningful interpretation of White Jacket's fall: "The fall
at sea symbolizes a fall from a preoccupation with self and facts
back into a fundamental awareness of men and involvement with
life."3 But McCarthy sees White Jacket largely as an observer; to
him the Neversink is the center of the book. Here Howard P. Vin-
cent comes more to the point in stressing the book's title: "White
Jacket refers both to the narrator and to his 'outlandish garment,'
to neglect which completely, or extensively, in favor of the propa-
gandistic and documentary elements in the book is to miss Melville's
first and most emphatic signpost to the book's essential meaning."4
Unfortunately, Vincent himself sometimes loses sight of this sign-
post and later remarks that "a simple documentary requires little
structuring."5 The concern of this chapter is to suggest that White
Jacket is much more than observer. His experience, like Ishmael's,
is indeed the heart of the novel.

The ostensible object of White Jacket is to give some idea of the
interior life in a man-of-war. In order to examine that interior life,
the narrator must view the ship from several physical perspectives;
and though he observes predominantly from his station in the top,
he is frequently involved in situations which permit him to see the
Neversink from other angles. Furthermore, there are some five
hundred men on board, a circumstance which allows the narrator to

3. Midwest Quarterly 7 (July 1966):323.
4. The Tailoring of Melville's "White Jacket" (Evanston, Illinois, 1970),
p. 12. In addition to its important factual information, Vincent's book is useful
in its concern with the narrator. However, such concern makes itself felt in
spots within a larger focus on the Neversink. I think White Jacket is even more
central than Vincent suggests.
5. Vincent, p. 108.


28







come in contact with a variety of psychological perspectives. The
events of the book not only define-at least partially-the ship, but,
more importantly, they force the narrator to shift his own psycho-
logical perspective as a result of the change in his physical per-
spective-here dramatically symbolized by his fall from the Never-
sink's mast.
White Jacket never gives the reader more than his nickname and
frequently is lost from sight in the ship's activity. The opening chap-
ter describes his jacket, not him, for he is merely the physical object
the jacket surrounds.6 Instead of emphasizing his individual charac-
teristics, as do Redburn and Ishmael at the outset of their narra-
tives, White Jacket calls himself "a universal absorber"7 and speaks
of the burden that his jacket is to carry about-almost as though he
wished to remain anonymous. This desire for anonymity is appro-
priate to one who would prefer not to involve himself with the ordi-
nary problems of the deck. He sees himself as separate from the
majority of the sailors not only because he is a former whaleman
now serving on a man-of-war but also because a man-of-war is a
departmentalized ship in which each man has his own task. White
Jacket "permanently belonged to the Starboard Watch.... And in
this watch he was a main-top-man" (p. 9), a man who works high
above the ship's decks, with therefore a physical perspective appro-
priate to the Melvillean hero who views life from a lofty, idealistic
psychological perspective.
White Jacket himself has a theory about the relationship between
the physical and the psychological because he feels that a sailor's lo-
cation aboard ship limits the way he looks at the world around him.
"This theory about the wondrous influence of habitual sights and
sounds upon the human temper, was suggested by my experiences
on board our frigate. . The entire ship abounded with illustra-
tions of its truth" (pp. 46-47). For example, the "'holders,' who
burrow, like rabbits in warrens, among the water-tanks, casks, and

6. The previous critical attention given to the jacket supports my position in
this chapter. Many critics have discussed it as a symbol of isolation. Howard
Vincent, for example, has called it "a symbol of pseudo-self-sufficiency," in
"White Jacket: An Essay in Interpretation," New England Quarterly 22 (Sep-
tember 1949):304-15, and I see no reason to disagree with that conclusion.
7. White Jacket: Or the World in a Man-of-War, ed. Harrison Hayford,
Hershel Parker, and G. Thomas Tanselle (Evanston, Illinois, 1970), p. 4. All
subsequent references to White Jacket will be to this edition and will appear
in the text.


White Jacket


29





MELVILLE S ANGLES OF VISION


cables . are a lazy, lumpish, torpid set" (p. 10), and a gunner's
gang is cross and quarrelsome because of "their being so much
among the guns" (p. 45). White Jacket's place in the top also in-
fluences-and reflects-his own disposition. "I am of a meditative
humor, and at sea used often to mount aloft at night, and, seating
myself on one of the upper yards, tuck my jacket about me and
give loose to reflection" (p. 76). The examination and description
of the Neversink and the men aboard her is therefore done initially
from a specific perspective. From his "airy perch" he literally looks
"down upon the landlopers below, sneaking about the deck, among
the guns" (p. 15). His superior view is also figurative: "Who were
more liberal-hearted, lofty-minded, gayer, more jocund, elastic, ad-
venturous, given to fun and frolic, than the top-men of the fore,
main, and mizzen masts? . The reason of their lofty-mindedness
was that they were high lifted above the petty tumults, carping
cares, and paltrinesses of the decks below" (p. 47). The top is re-
served for lofty-minded individuals, one of whom thinks of fusing
himself into the "universe of things" and becoming part of the "All"
(p. 76). The narrator's job, as well as his jacket, is thus a symbol of
his isolation from the rest of the crew. The reader should be wary,
therefore, of the fact that White Jacket's opinions are going to be
limited by his angle of vision, in spite of his declaration to the con-
trary: "And I feel persuaded in my inmost soul, that it is to the
fact of my having been a main-top-man; and especially my particu-
lar post being on the loftiest yard of the frigate, . that I am now
enabled to give such a free, broad, off-hand, bird's-eye, and, more
than all, impartial account of our man-of-war world; . meting
out to all-commodore and messenger-boy alike-their precise de-
scriptions and deserts" (p. 47).
White Jacket's friends are not too different from himself. Jack
Chase, Lemsford, Nord, Williams, and "my comrades of the main-
top, comprised almost the only persons with whom I unreservedly
consorted while on board the frigate" (p. 50). The group is select
because White Jacket believes that "an indiscriminate intimacy
with all hands leads to sundry annoyances and scrapes, too often
ending with a dozen at the gang-way" (p. 50), a statement empha-
sizing both fear and arrogance, the latter perhaps masking the
former. The psychological perspectives of White Jacket's friends-
particularly Chase, Lemsford, and Nord-are those of men who
also are separated from the ordinary seamen by their intellectual


30







interests. Lemsford is considered a conjuror, a lunatic, and a crazy
Methodist by most of the crew, but to White Jacket he is "a poet;
so thoroughly inspired with the divine afflatus, that not even all the
tar and tumult of a man-of-war could drive it out of him" (p. 40).
Nord is a character of mystery and romance as well as something of
a scholar. He is a man who seeks to preserve his dignity in an en-
vironment which subjects it to constant threat. Like White Jacket,
Nord wishes to keep his acquaintances few and his duties "faith-
fully discharged," for he "had early resolved, so to conduct himself
as never to run the risk of the scourge" (p. 51). Such actions mean,
however, that he too "must be content for the most part to turn a
man-hater, and socially expatriate himself" (p. 51). The man who
seeks to avoid the scourge must necessarily avoid involvement in
human affairs and concern for other men. Only the intellectual, the
man who responds to humanity strictly from the head, can keep
himself safely above ordinary dangers. In seeking to avoid prob-
lems and dangers associated with the deck, however, one lets him-
self become prey to the dangers of the top. To avoid involvement,
man can only isolate himself.
Several crew members of the Neversink do not appreciate White
Jacket's aloofness. Like Tommo and Redburn before him, White
Jacket preaches to those around him, as he does when he advises
"an old toper of a top-man about his daily dram-drinking" (p. 54).
The old toper does not mind, but the crew does not always react
so understandingly. His original mess-mates, for example, tell him
to join another mess. "Somehow, there has never been a very cor-
dial feeling between this mess and me; all along they had nourished
a prejudice against my white jacket. They must have harbored the
silly fancy that in it I gave myself airs, and wore it in order to look
consequential" (p. 61). After hearing his companions' decision,
White Jacket rises, tucks his jacket around him, bows, and de-
parts. "I was shocked. Such a want of tact and delicacy! Common
propriety suggested that a point-blank intimation of that nature
should be conveyed in a private interview; or, still better, by note"
(p. 62). Perhaps the crew's idea that he gives himself airs is just a
silly fancy, but the playful and yet condescending tone in this and
other passages in the opening section of the book suggests that
there might be some truth in the thought. White Jacket immediately
joins a mess more compatible with his own psychological perspec-
tive, one including Jack Chase and made up of "the headmost men


White Jacket


31





MELVILLE'S ANGLES OF VISION


of the gun-deck; . they were, one and all, fellows of large intellec-
tual and corporeal calibre" (p. 62).
The presentation of White Jacket's initial perspective is con-
cluded in the final chapters of this opening section, a section
encompassing Chapters 1 through 19. As might be expected, his re-
action to "general quarters" is one of distaste: "To a quiet, con-
templative character, averse to uproar, undue exercise of his bodily
members, and all kind of useless confusion, nothing can be more
distressing than a proceeding in all men-of-war called 'general quar-
ters' (p. 64). It is reluctance "to squander the precious breath of
my precious body in a ridiculous fight of shams and pretensions"
(p. 65) which suggests all the aloofness and self-concern that char-
acterizes the narrator in the opening; the exercise is "beneath a true
tar and man of valor" (p. 65).
His physical as well as his psychological perspective can best be
seen in Chapter 19, for it is here that White Jacket is pictured sit-
ting in the uppermost part of the ship, "the appropriate place ...
for symbolic self-enclosure."8 One hundred feet above even those
in the top, he is lured by the star's rays "to die and be glorified with
them" (p. 76). At this point in the book White Jacket is most iso-
lated, wrapped in his jacket and separated even from his friends.
At the masthead in Moby-Dick, Ishmael stands so poised; and, ap-
propriately, when each man is yielding to his limited psychological
perspective, each is in danger of falling to his death. "Like light-
ning," White Jacket tells us, "the yard dropped under me, and in-
stinctively I clung with both hands to the 'tie,' .. I came to myself
with a rush, and felt something like a choking hand at my throat"
(p. 77). After saving himself, White Jacket descends to the top and
never again contemplates his fusion into the "universe of things."
Though he continues to view the ship from the top, it is now as a
member of the crew who works there-with only lingering rem-
nants of the god-like stance.9 After Chapter 19 he begins to present
the Neversink from other physical perspectives than that of the top,
and he concerns himself with other psychological perspectives than
those of his friends. White Jacket's threatened fall from the highest
8. Vincent, p. 75.
9. The experience of Chapter 19 is dramatized again in Chapter 21, "How
They Sleep in a Man-of-War," which concludes with this sentence: "So at
last I was fain to return to my old level, and moralize upon the folly, in all
arbitrary governments, of striving to get either below or above those whom
legislation has placed upon an equality with yourself" (p. 81).


32





MELVILLE S ANGLES OF VISION


crowd of others" (p. 107) who are in that rigging, helping to bring
the ship through the storm. "We are homeward bound, what care
the jolly crew" (p. 115) if the breezes blow as long as they blow
fair?
When the Neversink arrives in the harbor of Rio de Janeiro, Mel-
ville uses the opportunity to introduce a number of new characters
who permit us to see even further the change that has taken place
in White Jacket. The figure of Bland affords White Jacket an oppor-
tunity to play with his earlier lofty stance. He describes Bland from
the perspective of one in the top:

Though we all abhorred the monster of Sin itself, yet, from our
social superiority, highly rarefied education in our lofty top,
and large and liberal sweep of the aggregate of things, we were
in a good degree free from those useless, personal prejudices,
and galling hatreds against conspicuous sinners-not Sin-
which so widely prevail among men of warped understandings,
and unchristian and uncharitable hearts. . We perceived
how that evil was but good disguised, and a knave a saint in
his way; how that in other planets, perhaps, what we deem
wrong, may there be deemed right; even as some substances,
without undergoing any mutations in themselves, utterly
change their color, according to the light thrown upon them.
... It was only our misapprehension of these things that made
us take them for woeful pains instead of the most agreeable
pleasures (p. 186).

This passage is not only significant for its content, which indicates
that White Jacket is very much aware of the effect of perspective,
but also for its language. He has already acknowledged the fact
that earlier he had held himself "somewhat aloof from the mass of
seamen on board the Neversink" (p. 174); now he chooses words-
"yet, from our social superiority, highly rarefied education in our
lofty top"-which seem deliberately to make fun of his former atti-
tude.
Several other representatives of the officers and people are intro-
duced while the Neversink lies at anchor. Mandeville, Frank, and
Cuticle are three who regard the world in a man-of-war from per-
spectives different from White Jacket's. Cuticle's inhuman psycho-
logical perspective is in marked contrast to the new perspective
from which White Jacket observes the world: "I sprang into the


34







rigging, and was soon at my perch. How I hung over that main-
royal-yard in a rapture! High in air, poised over that magnificent
bay, a new world to my ravished eyes, I felt like the foremost of a
flight of angels, new-lighted upon earth, from some star in the Milky
Way" (p. 212). Though the thoughts in this passage appear similar
to those expressed in Chapter 19, what is different is the fact that
here White Jacket is not reaching up, seeking to fuse himself into
the "All." Then, the mast had permitted him to get two hundred
feet nearer the stars; now it serves to give him a better view of the
bay below. Instead of contemplating in isolation some philosophi-
cal or metaphysical concept, he- ow enjoys the physical beauty of
Rio as one of the people.'
Though he no longer withdraws from the life of the deck, White
Jacket continues to enjoy the freedoms of the maintop. There is,
however, an awareness of isolation in his description of "The Main-
top at Night," for he is conscious of his separation from the life
below and being "removed from the immediate presence of the of-
ficers" (p. 310). The romantic setting that marks this chapter and
the next contrasts with the cruelty depicted by Tawney and Jack
Chase in their stories of naval combat. "Some man-of-war's-men
have confessed to me, that as a battle has raged more and more,
their hearts have hardened in infernal harmony; and, like their own
guns, they have fought without a thought" (p. 320). After such a
description, it is fitting that White Jacket's concluding comment be
no longer concerned with the "All" but with man.

What we call Fate is even, heartless, and impartial; not a fiend
to kindle bigot flames, nor a philanthropist to espouse the cause
of Greece. We may fret, fume, and fight; but the thing called
Fate everlastingly sustains an armed neutrality.
Yet though all this be so, nevertheless, in our own hearts,
we mold the whole world's hereafters; and in our own hearts
we fashion our own gods. Each mortal casts his vote for whom
he will to rule the worlds; I have a voice that helps to shape
eternity; and my volitions stir the orbits of the furthest suns.

11. Vincent speaks of this chapter as "the most inessential chapter in the
entire book" (p. 128), but that is only true if the Neversink is Melville's cen-
tral concern. If White Jacket's development is important, then we see here a
contrast with Chapter 19. Vincent implies that White Jacket is still the dreamerL
"the creature of purity, who regards himself angelically" (p. 129), but I feel
that there is a difference between this and his earlier stance.


White Jacket


35





MELVILLE S ANGLES OF VISION


In two senses, we are precisely what we worship. Ourselves
are Fate (pp. 320-21).

JIn this passage, one which is crucial to all of Melville's work, White
Jacket summarizes much of what he has learned since his near fall
in Chapter 19. At that time he felt that at least part of the sailor's
pleasure and purpose is to cut himself off from his world in order
to seek that quality symbolized by the stars which lure man: "We
sailors sail not in vain. We expatriate ourselves to nationalize with
the universe" (p. 76); man's action is outward and upward toward
the ideal. What White Jacket discovers during the course of the
book and what I suggest is the central theme of the book is that man
cannot isolate himself and then denounce the world's evils. The up-
ward thrust toward the ideal is equivalent to suicide unless it is
balanced by involvement in the physical, everyday affairs common
to all men. There are powers that exist beyond this world, but they
are impartial. The man who seeks to align himself with them
achieves only isolation. In reality, Fate is the result of men acting in
response to other men. The evils of war or the inhumanity of the
naval officers cannot be laid at the feet of the gods but are instead
the responsibility of men and can be changed only by men. White
SJacket, unlike Tommo, discovers that the world is unchanging; it is
man's perspective that changes. The stars do not lure man; man
lures himself if his perspective is such that he can see nothing but
the stars. One's desire for the ideal should be tempered by his con-
cern for man.
Having come to realize all this, White Jacket no longer retires to
his solitary place aloft. At the end of the book, his resting places
are on deck. His favorite spot is the chains, "the small platform out-
side the hull, at the base of the large shrouds leading down from
the three mast-heads to the bulwarks." "After hearing my fill
of the wild yarns of our top, here would I recline" (p. 322). Thus
both his physical and psychological perspectives have shifted
radically since Chapter 19. Chapter 79, "How Man-of-War's-Men
Die at Sea," contrasts directly with that earlier scene in the top.
Physically, it takes place below decks: "The watch on duty were
dozing on the carronade-slides, far above the sick bay; and the
watch below were fast asleep in their hammocks, on the same deck
with the invalid. Groping my way under these two hundred
sleepers, I entered the hospital" (pp. 335-36). There, "buried in the


36







very bowels of the ship" (p. 336), where the only sounds are the
low groans of the sick, White Jacket watches his messmate Shenly
die and remains sitting beside him through the night. He has moved
from the highest point in the ship, where he contemplated his rela-
tionship to the universe, to a bedside below decks, where his only
thoughts are for his friend who will never again answer the call
"for the watch below to turn out" (p. 337). These two chapters, 19
and 79, present White Jacket's most extreme physical and psycho-
logical perspectives. His final position, of course, lies somewhere in
between, but White Jacket has seen the man-of-war from both
angles.
Jack Chase is White Jacket's idol in the first part of the book; sig-
nificantly in the final section it would seem to be Ushant, the old
sailor who is flogged for refusing to have his beard shaved. Though
Jack Chase is indignant at the captain's order requiring the men to
be shaven, he yields with a characteristic flourish: "'My friend, I
trust your scissors are consecrated. Let them not touch this beard
if they have yet to be dipped in holy water; beards are sacred
things, barber"'" (p. 360). Jack is eloquent, but it is not he who
now earns the respect of the crew. Jack speaks for liberty; but in
capitulating to the captain's whim, he separates himself from that
more venerable member of the crew who refuses to obey an unjust
order. Jack surrenders to oppression; Ushant rebels and conquers.
The significance of the contrast between these two men might be
most clearly made by emphasizing the fact of Ushant's flogging.
Earlier in the book White Jacket and Nord indicate that they want
to keep themselves above the petty squabbles which so often lead
to a dozen at the gangway, but the avoidance of punishment is pos-
sible only for one who refuses to get involved in the daily affairs of
men. Jack Chase is a glamorous hero for such individuals. Ushant,
however, is flogged but keeps his beard, the symbol of manhood
to the crew: "'Do you think, master-at-arms, that I am hurt? I will
put on my own garment. I am never the worse for it, man; and 'tis
no dishonor when he who would dishonor you, only dishonors him-
self' (p. 366). White Jacket's respect and concern for Ushant fur-
ther illustrate his own change. His list of friends is no longer limited
to Lemsford, Nord, Williams, and Chase. His psychological per-
spective has shifted: his view of the Neversink is not that of an iso-
lated, aloof individual, but that of one of the sailors, one of the
people. This shift is symbolized dramatically in his fall from the


White Jacket


37











MELVILLE S ANGLES OF VISION


top-mast in Chapter 92, a fall which carries him from the top of the
ship to the sea below just as his psychological perspective has
moved from one of aloofness to one of compassion for the world
about him. Nothing suddenly happens to White Jacket with this
fall. It is instead symbolic of a process that has been going on
throughout the book. He has viewed the ship from several different
physical angles and has learned of psychological perspectives other
than his own. His final angle of vision must take into account all
that he has seen as well as the knowledge that there are parts of
the ship which he has never entered and crew members whom he
has never met.

It is, therefore, an oversimplification to describe the action of
White Jacket as a story of the protagonist's initiation and baptism
into the world's evil. It is instead a story depicting the exchange of
isolated arrogance for involved concern. Evil is just as much a part
of the top as it is a part of the deck, for intellectual isolation and
physical indulgence are both aspects of human sin.12 White Jacket
has been aboard the Neversink a year when the book opens and
has, therefore, surely seen the evils of the deck before. His story is
one of growing awareness of the danger of isolation; it is not one of
an initiation into the world's evil. His fall from the mast is not a fall
from innocence but rather a descent from lofty isolation towards in-
volvement in the familiar concerns of mankind.
12. Edgar A. Dryden, in Melville's Thematics of Form (Baltimore, 1968),
speaks of the narrator's movement in similar terms: "As his adventures aloft
imply, the idealistic world of the maintop is as fictitious and more dangerous
than the painted world of the deck" (p. 77). Dryden's reading of White
Jacket, however, sees both worlds as unreal and leads to this conclusion: "In
pretending to call for social reform while actually insisting that the nature of
reality makes reform impossible, he is hiding his vision of whiteness under the
colors of an apparently propagandistic fiction" (p. 78).


38






5

Pierre







THE THEMATIC and structural differences in Melville's
works before and after 1851 have been a topic of fre-
quent critical concern. The change in narrative technique marked
by the shift from a first- to a third-person narrator and by a diminu-
tion in the scale of the subject matter are often noted, as is the sense,
in the later writings, of futility, bitterness, and fatality. This shift
is mirrored in the handling of perspective. Though it remains of
central importance, perspective is not always handled as it was be-
fore Moby-Dick. Its use in Typee, Redburn, and White Jacket em-
phasizes the danger of mistaking the isolated perspective for com-
prehensive truth. Redburn and White Jacket, in particular, move
from positions of isolation to ones from which they recognize the
limitations effected by perspective. The darkness of a book like
Pierre is very much the result of having a central figure who also
exchanges his early isolation but for even greater subsequent iso-
lation. Significantly, that movement is accompanied by a physical
exchange of the outdoors for the indoors and of the ground levels
for the upper floors, just the opposite of the movement we have
noted in Redburn and White Jacket.
The opening chapters of Pierre present the central figure in a
world characterized by comfort, beauty, health, and repose. Pierre
is first seen on a morning that would make a sojourner from the city
"wonder-smitten with the trance-like aspect of the green and golden
world."1 "Dewily refreshed and spiritualized by sleep, . half un-
consciously" (p. 1), he bends his steps towards Lucy's cottage,
where he lifts his eyes to gaze upon her upper window. Both of
these actions, walking outdoors and gazing upwards, are character-
1. Pierre: Or, the Ambiguities, ed. Henry A. Murray (New York, 1949),
p. 1. All subsequent references to Pierre will be to this edition and will appear
in the text.
39





MELVILLE'S ANGLES OF VISION


istic of the early Pierre. It was his "choice fate to have been born
and nurtured in the country" (p. 4). His visits to the city have been
limited to annual ones and then only in the company of his parents.
Pierre enjoys both the poetical qualities of the country, reflected in
the way he and his mother act and speak towards each other, and
the physical qualities. He loves the outdoors, and "generally rose
with the sun, and could not sleep without riding his twenty, or
walking his twelve miles a day, or felling a fair-sized hemlock in the
forest, or boxing, or fencing, or boating, or performing some other
gymnastical feat" (p. 17). Pierre idolizes-and knows only-beauty
and health. He stands upon a "noble pedestal" (p. 11) from which
he gazes in rapture at his background, his sweetheart Lucy, and his
mother. Each is in turn pedestaled and reverenced by the romantic
Pierre.
?. Pierre is a boy of "absolute motives" (p. 5). If his story had been
written five years earlier, Melville might have had his hero eventu-
ally realize the limitations of such absolutes; as it stands, however,
when Pierre learns that these particular absolutes are wrong, he
rapidly adopts others. In the beginning he believes that his past life,
e his mother, his father, Lucy, and Saddle Meadows all are perfect.
Even his daydreams are expressed in absolute terms: "'Oh, had
my father but had a daughter! . Someone whom I might love,
and protect, and fight for, if need be. It must be a glorious thing
to engage in a mortal quarrel on a sweet sister's behalf'" (p. 6).
f Physically Pierre exists in a dewy, timeless, outdoors world; psycho-
logically he sees objects surrounding him as perfections, as abso-
lutes. The physical and the psychological are further brought to-
gether in this opening section when Pierre and Lucy go for a picnic
into the hills. But the picnic ends in tears, for Lucy is overcome by
sadness. Instead of being exhilarated as is Pierre, she thinks of the
mysterious face which haunts him and about which he has told her.
Both lovers are seized by a foretaste of the future with the realiza-
tion that their happiness may be destroyed. "'Up, my Pierre; let
us up, and fly these hills, whence, I fear, too wide a prospect meets
us' (p. 44). Just as the hills offer a new and sweeping physical
perspective of the countryside, so are the lovers now forced to re-
alize that perhaps the way in which they previously have viewed
their love and future is too limited. "Now they rolled swiftly down
the slopes; nor tempted the upper hills; but sped fast for the plain.
Now the cloud hath passed from Lucy's eye; no more the lurid


40






slanting light forks upward from her lover's brow. In the plain they
find peace, and love, and joy again" (p. 44). But such joy has been
shown to be the result of a limited view of the world. Pierre's part-
ing words to Lucy after the picnic, "'The great God wrap thee ever,
Lucy' are certainly appropriate, for in the hills they have sensed
that their happiness will be threatened when their world and their
perspective of that world are no longer wrapped in seclusion.
Pierre never looks at the world in other than absolute terms. In
the beginning he is aware only of absolute perfection and joy; at
the end he seeks only absolute Truth. He never reconciles the vari-
ous angles of vision by realizing that man cannot hope to compre-
hend absolutes. When his early world begins to crack and his youth-
ful thoughts of his father and mother are shattered, he seeks new
ideals. Pondering the haunting face of Isabel, he warn; the gods to
beware destroying his faith, for he will be forced to another ex-
treme.

"It visibly rustles behind the concealing screen. Now, never
into the soul of Pierre, stole there before, a muffledness like
this! If aught really lurks in it, ye sovereign powers that claim
all my leal worshipings, I conjure ye to lift the veil; . .
advance I on a precipice, hold me back; but abandon me
to an unknown misery, that it shall suddenly seize me, and
possess me, wholly,-that ye will never do; else, Pierre's fond
faith in ye-now clean, untouched-may clean depart; and
give me up to be a railing atheist" (pp. 47-48).


His world of "visible, beautiful flesh, and audible breath" (p. 56) is "
suddenly entered and destroyed by the appearance of Isabel, a
dark-haired girl who claims to be his sister. Unquestioning, he be-
lieves her and acts upon that belief: "He equivocated with himself
no more; the gloom of the air had now burst into his heart, and ex-
tinguished its light; then, first in all his life, Pierre felt the irresistible
admonitions and intuitions of Fate" (p. 72). In this and many simi-
lar statements throughout the book, the narrator, and Pierre him-
self, descry the intervention of Fate. The actions of the characters,
however, are frequently the result of the way in which they them-
selves respond to their world. Unlike Redburn, White Jacket, and
Ishmael-all of whom become aware of a wide variety of perspec-
tives-Ahab and Pierre embrace one perspective at the expense of 4


Pierre


41





MELVILLE'S ANGLES OF VISION


all others. When Pierre discovers the limitations of his youthful
world, he rejects that world utterly and devotes himself fully to a
new one, never recognizing that it too is equally limited. The world
of Saddle Meadows is one of sensuous beauty, in which Pierre im-
merses himself. After the intrusion of less pleasant truths about
human existence, truths which balance rather than supersede the
beauties of life, Pierre shifts his focus and immerses himself in the
kr quest for absolute Truth. Initially an enthusiast, he dies an enthusi-
ast. He does little more than shift the direction of his enthusi-
asm. Once that change has occurred, Pierre's psychological per-
spective becomes increasingly narrowed as his view of the world
Becomes more limited. Though he dedicates himself to Truth, he rec-
ognizes only one of its many aspects. Gradually, like Ahab, his con-
cept of himself as one driven by Fate results in an introverted
angle of vision which sees little else but its own narrow world.
Although his first act after reading Isabel's letter is to rush wildly
out of doors, his tendency during the remainder of the book is to
withdraw gradually into enclosed areas. The book begins in the lush
morning air and ends in a stark jail cell. His increasingly limited
psychological perspective is thus paralleled by an equally limited
physical perspective. After dashing outside, he returns home and
enters "a locked, round-windowed closet connecting" with his bed-
room, where he keeps a portrait of his father and where "he had
always been wont to go, in those sweetly awful hours, when the
spirit crieth to the spirit, Come into solitude with me, twin-brother"
(p. 83). The portrait is one of two in the house, the same man
viewed from two distinct perspectives. The picture in Pierre's closet
is that of "a brisk, unentangled, young bachelor"; the larger of the
two, that hanging in the family drawing-room, portrays "a middle-
aged, married man" and is a portrait indicating all the respectable
qualities appropriate to the wedded state. So distinct are the paint-
ings that Mrs. Glendinning cannot stand Pierre's because it pre-
sents a view of her husband that she does not want to accept. The
warning of the closet portrait is to "believe not the drawing-room
painting; that is not thy father; or, at least, is not all of thy father.
Consider in thy mind, Pierre, whether we two paintings may not
make only one" (p. 97). After Isabel's letter, however, Pierre ac-
cepts only the closet painting. His father's shrine, before which he
used to worship, lies in rubble at his feet. He fails to see that if the
drawing-room painting before was not all of his father, now neither


42







is the closet painting all. Each is a perspective of limited validity,
and each should be recognized as such. But the father's memory,
which was once sacred to Pierre, is now anathema.
"Now, from his height of composure, he firmly gazed abroad upon
the charred landscape within him" (p. 101). From this new psycho-
logical perspective, appropriately expressed in physical terms,
Pierre chooses to act, but he is less concerned with what he must
do than with how he must do it. In this first aftermath of the re-
ceipt of Isabel's letter, Pierre is confident that he knows how every-
one involved will respond to Isabel. "Wonderful, indeed, was the
electric insight which Fate had now given him into the vital charac-
ter of his mother. She well might have stood all ordinary tests; but
when Pierre thought of the touchstone of his immense strait applied
to her spirit; he felt profoundly assured that she would crumble into
nothing before it" (p. 104). Whether or not this assumption is true, A
Pierre acts as though it were and is thus an example of White
Jacket's statement that "Ourselves are Fate." He anticipates the
thoughts of others as well asitheir actions and determines his own
course accordingly. If Fate is responsible for Isabel's appearance,
Pierre must at least share responsibility for the events which follow.
"Standing helf-befogged upon the mountain of his Fate" (p. 123)
-another psychological state expressed in physical terms-Pierre
decides to embrace Isabel at the expense of his mother, Lucy, and
Saddle Meadows. That embrace, in its physical sense, is frequently
described in such a way as to show the limited view that Pierre has
of the whole situation. As he embraces Isabel, he feels "a faint
struggling within his clasp; her head drooped against him; his whole
form was bathed in the flowing glossiness of her long and unim-
prisoned hair" (p. 132). Though Pierre associates Isabel with the
Absolute, she is described in terms which suggest confinement. Her
first memories, for example, are of houses, and she is seldom seen
out of doors. Whether enveloped by her hair, lying beneath the
Memnon Stone, or locked within his closet, Pierre is no longer the
healthy, robust youth who loved exercise and nature: "'But truly,
Isabel, thy all-abounding hair falls upon me with some spell which
dismisses all ordinary considerations from me' (p. 170).
Pierre's psychological perspective at this time continues to be
presented in physical terms. "Sudden onsets of new truth will assail
him, and overturn him as the Tartars did China; for there is no
China Wall that man can build in his soul, which shall permanently


Pierre


43





MELVILLE S ANGLES OF VISION


stay the irruptions of those barbarous hordes which Truth ever
nourishes in the loins of her frozen, yet teeming North" (p. 196).
He attempts to build such a China Wall and, like Tommo as he
plans a course of action based upon his shipboard view of Nuku-
heva, relies entirely upon the way things appear to him. As also in
Typee, Melville therefore uses vision as a basic image. Whether or
not, for example, it is a blessing that intricacies "are mostly withheld
from sight" when man is about to make a decision depends entirely
upon "what view you take of it" (p. 206). In such an individual's
"eagerness, all objects are deceptively foreshortened; by his inten-
sity each object is viewed as detached; so that essentially and rela-
tively everything is misseen by him" (p. 206), and he thus may be
fittingly described as a "blind mole" (p. 207). Pierre's decision to
present Isabel to the world as his wife is the result of two absolute
convictions: he must give lasting fraternal help to Isabel and he
must make sure that the world keeps his father's memory un-
touched. Therefore casting off his former way of looking at the
world of Saddle Meadows, as well as all physical ties to it, Pierre
sets off for New York in the company of Isabel and her friend Delly
Ulver.
The transition of the three from Saddle Meadows to their New
York home at the Apostles' is punctuated by the importance of per-
spective. Objects which once appeared one way now appear an-
other. The mementoes which Pierre sorts out before he leaves are
seen as the remnants of the "decay and death of endless innumer-
able generations" (p. 232). The pamphlet on chronometricals and
horologicals is a different psychological perspective on Pierre's di-
lemma, presenting a philosophy as extreme and, therefore, as fal-
lacious and unacceptable as is Pierre's itself. Yet Pierre's salvation
might lie in recognizing this other viewpoint, in seeing its relativism
as a qualification of and ironic commentary upon his own abso-
lutism. For the time, however, he forgets and "loses" the pamphlet.
We are told that he is unable to comprehend its "central conceit,"
but perhaps his handling of the pamphlet symbolizes a suppressing
of the complexities and alternatives suggested in it. Finally, Pierre's
relationship with Glen Stanly is itself an extended example of per-
spective. The love-friendship that seems absolute to boys looks very
different when they grow older: "The mere outer friendship may in
some degree-greater or less-survive; but the singular love in it has
perishingly dropped away" (p. 255). Part of the change is attributed


44







by the narrator to change of place as well as change of age: "If the
general love for women had in Pierre sensibly modified his particu-
lar sentiment toward Glen; neither had the thousand nameless fasci-
nations of the then brilliant paradises of France and Italy, failed to
exert their seductive influence on many of the previous feelings of
Glen" (p. 256). No effort of will is able to retrieve that former
friendship once the psychological perspective has shifted, but both
perspectives-then and now-are equally valid.
After settling his dependents at the Apostles', Pierre decides to
support his household by writing. But even the art of writing is seen
in a new light. Popular writing results only in fame, and Pierre now
sees himself as a seeker of Truth. Appropriate to this lofty attitude
is Pierre's room at the Apostles'. It is at the rear and near the top
of the building, and from it he gazes down on a "wilderness of tiles,
slate, shingles, and tin" (p. 318) and a gray tower, "emblem to
Pierre of an unshakable fortitude" (p. 318). Physically isolated from
the world, Pierre works but discovers only the impossibility of
knowing Truth, an impossibility described by the narrator in terms
similar to those used to describe Tommo's journey into the moun-
tains of Nukuheva. "But, as to the resolute traveler in Switzerland,
the Alps do never in one wide and comprehensive sweep, instan-
taneously reveal their full awfulness of amplitude; . so hath
heaven wisely ordained, that on first entering into the Switzerland
of his soul, man shall not at once perceive its tremendous immen-
sity" (p. 334). Such an image suggests, as the narrator himself is
aware, that the mountain can be climbed. But "far over the invisible
Atlantic, the Rocky Mountains and the Andes are yet unbeheld" (p.
335). Man can climb but one mountain at a time; he can never see
more than single aspects of Truth. As Pierre gradually realizes his
human limitations, his work slowly comes to a halt. Like his physical
movement from the warm, country outdoors to a cold, lofty room in
the city, his psychological movement has also been in the direction
of cold, lofty absolutes. When he becomes aware that other moun-
tains loom beyond each one he climbs, he understands that he can
live neither as an ordinary man nor as a seeker for Truth. He is un-
willing to accept without challenge the limitations of the human
condition, and yet those same limitations keep him from ever fully
comprehending Truth. "For Faith and philosophy are air, but events
are brass. Amidst his gray philosophizings, Life breaks upon a man
like a morning" (p. 340).


45


Pierre





MELVILLE S ANGLES OF VISION


Willingly having deserted humanity and suddenly discovering
himself deserted by the gods, Pierre becomes completely unable to
act. In the final chapters the action which most characterizes him
is that of sitting: "And now day succeeds day, and week follows
week, and Pierre still sits in his chamber" (p. 347), missing the life
that goes on in the city around him. He is finally joined in that iso-
lation by Lucy, called, she feels, by God as was Pierre earlier: "She
had been moved to it by all-encompassing influences above, around,
and beneath" (p. 384), moved to enter a cold upper room where
she can sit by Pierre in his "sublime heaven of heroism" (p. 365).
Lofty sentiments such as these are often reinforced by other phrases
repeated in an almost hypnotic manner. In Book 19, for example,
"on the third night following the arrival of the party in the city,
Pierre sat at twilight by a lofty window in the rear building of the
Apostles' (p. 317) is repeated three times in four paragraphs with
only slight variation in word order. The effect of such passages, like
the emphasis placed upon physical location and the magical guitar,
is to stress the isolated, unworldly psychological perspective of
Pierre. Pierre has withdrawn into a world all his own-" 'I render
no accounts: I am what I am"'" (p. 382)-but it is impossible to
exist under such limited conditions, for both physically and intel-
lectually Pierre feeds upon himself. Death is inevitable.
Unlike the heroes discussed before-Redburn, White Jacket, even
Tommo-Pierre never learns that one's response to his world is fre-
quently the result not of the world's condition but of the way in
which one perceives that condition. Redburn and White Jacket
move from positions of isolation towards ones in which they com-
municate. Misanthropy and distrust are exchanged for interest and
concern. Pierre, however, feels that life has "taught him never to
expect any good from any thing; but always to anticipate ill" (p.
389). As a result, though "in a city of hundreds of thousands of
human beings, Pierre was solitary as at the Pole" (p. 398). When
the beautiful existence at Saddle Meadows is shattered by Isabel's
letter, he seeks a different ideal, never realizing that both ideals
might have some relation to each other. When his search proves
fruitless and he sees the "everlasting elusiveness of Truth" (p. 399),
he is unable to respond in any way but with despair and is content
only in his closed room or obscure dark alleys. Appropriately, for
one who is blind to any psychological perspective but his own,
Pierre's eyes begin to fail; he is no longer able even to write.


46







Just before his death, Pierre dreams of the Mount of Titans, which
stands alone some fifteen miles from his home at Saddle Meadows.
"The height, viewed from the piazza of a soft haze-canopied sum-
mer's noon, presented a long and beautiful, but not entirely
inaccessible-looking purple precipice, some two thousand feet in
air, and on each hand sideways sloping down to lofty terraces of
pastures" (p. 403). White flowers cover the pastures. Though beau-
tiful to the eye, these same flowers are distasteful to cattle and thus
are harmful to farmers on the hillsides. Differences occur as one's
physical perspective changes and he approaches the mountain:
"Coming still more nigh, long and frequent rents among the mass of
leaves revealed horrible glimpses of dark-dripping rocks, and mys-
terious mouths of wolfish caves" (p. 403). Just as Pierre leaves his
home to seek Truth, an endeavor resulting in frustration and failure,
so may one set out to visit the beautiful mountain. The end of the
journey, however, results in anything but the realization of beauty.
"Stark desolation; ruin, merciless and ceaseless; chills and gloom,-
all here lived a hidden life, curtained by that cunning purpleness,
which, from the piazza of the manor-house, so beautifully invested
the mountain once called Delectable, but now styled Titanic" (p.
405).
Finally, having "sat on earth's saddle" until he is weary and, like
his grandfather, unhorsed, Pierre commits suicide, symbolically if
not also literally, by killing his cousin. "Spatterings of his own kin-
dred blood were upon the pavement; his own hand had extin-
guished his house in slaughtering the only unoutlawed human being
by the name of Glendinning;-and Pierre was seized by a hundred
contending hands" (p. 424). The narrator talks a great deal about
Fate, suggesting that his hero is the puppet of outside forces, a pos-
sibility which would mean that Pierre's death is less a suicide than
a homicide. However, in addition to presenting all the circum-
stances of the situation, the narrator also emphasizes that Pierre's
course of action is the result of his own choices. It is his choice that
brings Isabel, Delly, and himself to New York. To cry "Fate" is to
refuse to see the relationship between perspective and responsibil-
ity. Perspective influences, it does not determine. The individual's
awareness of or refusal to see its effect contributes to his psycho-
logical perspective. Tommo, Redburn, White Jacket, and Ishmael
initially yield to their physical perspectives, thereby inviting de-
struction; however, the fact that each can finally act on some other


Pierre


47



















48 MELVILLE'S ANGLES OF VISION
basis than physical perspective suggests that will is a major in-
gredient in psychological perspective and, therefore, in action. Red-
burn, for example, learns that his perspective is only one of many
and is able to act on that knowledge. Neither his early misanthropy
nor his later concern for others is determined totally by circum-
stances. He, too, is responsible for his psychological perspective
and for the action that results. What is fated, given the indifferent
Melvillean universe (one which functions solely on the principles
of cause and effect) is not action but the consequences of that ac-
tion. Tommo's venture into the mountains or White Jacket's ascent
to the masthead, actions which they are free to initiate, indicate
that the only result of such movement can be failure and self-
destruction. If powers beyond man's understanding exist, they are
characterized as impassive. Only the proud ego of an Ahab or a
Pierre is able to imagine itself significant to the gods.






6

Israel Potter

and

The Confidence-AMan




THE LAST major works of fiction in this first decade of
Melville's writing present an even greater change in
the handling of perspective than the changes already discussed.
At the same time, the ideas expressed in Israel Potter and The
Confidence-Man are also very different from anything Melville has
worked with before. The possibilities for individual achievement
and personal growth, for example-possibilities which are realized
in characters like White Jacket and Ishmael-are missing in these
final two works. Absent also is the function of psychological per-
spective as the reflection of a character's awareness of himself
within his physical environment. Considering how well delineated
is the individual's psychological perspective in works prior to Israel
Potter, the reader is scarcely prepared to meet the faceless heroes
of these last books. There is clearly a fundamental difference in fic-
tional mode that separates these novels from the rest of the canon,
a difference that has yet to be fully defined.
F. O. Matthiessen attributes at least part of the difference to Mel-
ville's personal exhaustion,1 but there are indications that perhaps
Melville's departures from his previous work were deliberate and
that the final effects were carefully planned. The fictional mode of
the canon up to and including the early short stories is one which
uses perspective to reveal character. The way in which an individ-
ual regards himself or his environment and his ability to recognize
the limitations of single perspectives are important factors in his
choice of actions and in the reader's study of those actions. Per-
spective thus functions as a structural device upon which Melville
can ground his fiction and by means of which the reader is per-
mitted to comprehend that fiction. As has been suggested, a study
1. American Renaissance (London, 1941), p. 491.
49





MELVILLE S ANGLES OF VISION


of the psychological perspectives of Tommo, Redburn, White Jacket,
and Pierre facilitates not only our understanding of the characters
themselves, but also and even more importantly our understanding
of the total work in which each appears. When we turn to Israel
Potter or The Confidence-Man, however, we discover that the fic-
tional mode no longer uses perspective to reveal character. The
reader is able to do nothing more than speculate about the central
characters or the world which surrounds them. Melville seems to
have deliberately changed the fictional mode so as to frustrate our
complete understanding of action and character.
One of the first indications of a change in fictional mode occurs
in "Benito Cereno." Although the psychological perspective of De-
lano serves to reveal his character, it provides an insufficient means
for comprehending the fictional world of the story. A comparison
of the function of Delano's perspective with, for example, that of
the perspective of White Jacket reveals that the earlier story is con-
structed so that the reader may ultimately rely on the way White
Jacket regards the world. As White Jacket realizes the limitations
of his initial posture, he shifts his physical as well as his psychologi-
cal position. Eventually the reader is able to accept White Jacket's
perspective as reliable, still limited by human capabilities but not
by individual blindness. But Delano is not White Jacket, and we
certainly cannot comprehend the situation and events in "Benito
Cereno" by relying on Delano's perspective, for here his view of the
world remains as limited as does Pierre's. In Pierre, however, a
further angle of vision is provided by the narrator, who interprets
as well as presents, a method which makes Pierre one who is ob-
served rather than identified with. This distance between narrator
and central figure is accompanied by a general change of tone from
the earlier books, for with the narrator moving from center stage
to the wings, the central figure is viewed with an ironic detach-
ment which contributes to the sense of isolation and futility that
marks the book. What Melville provides, therefore, in both White
Jacket and Pierre is not only a reliable narrator but more impor-
tantly a reasonably reliable perspective from which the story can
be approached. In "Benito Cereno," however-also told by a third-
person narrator-the narrative voice is so scrupulously objective
and Delano's perspective, though it only controls the first part of the
story, so clearly limited that the reader is unable to get to the heart
of the events related. It is as though Melville is incorporating the


50





Israel Potter AND The Confidence-Man


limitations of perspective into the fiction itself. The final section of
the narrative is given to trial testimony, a fictional device that em-
phasizes the limitations of individual perspectives, for we have the
testimony of the witnesses but not the actuality which they talk
about. In other words, the fictional mode of "Benito Cereno," un-
like that of White Jacket and Pierre, is deliberately constructed so
as to force the reader to remain at a distance. One can speculate
about the events, but he is finally left with only brilliantly illumi-
nated perspectives of those events.
Melville's first novel to be structured on the basis of this new
mode is Israel Potter, a story of futility and isolation. A giant in
chains, secret military plans that never seem to come to fruition,
naval battles in which the victor sinks while the loser remains afloat,
and a central figure whose basic talent is his ability to survive are
characteristic of a book in which actions are determined less by an
individual's plans than by circumstances. The possibility for achieve-
ment as a result of personal endeavor, a possibility which plays a
major role in Redburn and White Jacket, is only secondarily im-
portant in Israel Potter. Man is here cut off from the universe, from
his fellow beings, and perhaps even from himself. The influence of
chance and environment on actions limits the possibility of individ-
ual choice. Events do not frustrate Israel's decisions; they determine
them. Tommo, Redburn, and Pierre encounter the physical world
after they have chosen to act; Israel encounters it prior to choice.
Israel Potter is thus a story which should be and is constructed in
such a way as to frustrate a reader's desire to comprehend fully
what happens. Both thematically and artistically the term "psycho-
logical perspective" as it has previously been used in this study is
not a part of Israel Potter. The action of the book negates any pos-
sibility of Israel's conceiving of himself as separate from his environ-
ment, as a distinct being with an identity of his own, and such a
conception is necessary if one is to have a perspective of his world,
for perspective is a term which implies distance from an object. An
exile and an enemy, Potter can afford only an identity which is
fluid, one constantly capable of change. Because of the world in
which he lives, he is and must be a faceless hero. Since the central
figure is never able to understand himself with regard to his world
-implying that the relation between self and world is incompre-
hensible-it is artistically appropriate that the reader not be able to
either. Perspective as a way of revealing character and a method


51





MELVILLE'S ANGLES OF VISION


for comprehending the action of a book is, therefore, fittingly and
necessarily absent. The fictional mode of Israel Potter is, thus, not
the sign of Melville's exhaustion but rather that of an artist seeking
to reflect meaning in form.
The world of which Israel is a part is described physically in the
book's opening chapter, "The Birthplace of Israel." The landscape
is characterized by mountainous terrain, sterility, and solitude. "At
the present day, some of those mountain townships present an as-
pect of singular abandonment. Though they have never known
aught but peace and health, they . look like countries depopu-
lated by plague and war."2 The country is lovely but lonely during
the summer almost as though it invites the presence of nature but
not that of man. In autumn, even the birds leave, and drizzling
mists settle upon mountains "left bleak and sere" (p. 5). When the
snows come, all communication stops. "Such, at this day, is the
country which gave birth to our hero" (p. 5). As he matures, Israel
adjusts to this world and becomes caught up in a stream of contin-
uous movement. When he goes to sea, for example, his journeys
from Providence to Antigua, Puerto Rico, Africa, Nantucket, and
the South Seas are mentioned in less than three paragraphs. The
rapidity with which this movement is presented suggests a mean-
inglessness and loneliness which come to be characteristic of Potter's
story as he moves quickly and aimlessly from place to place. Con-
tinually seen as one alone, betrayed, or used by those with whom
he does establish relationships, Israel is forced to hunt, because his
home is too rocky for farming and because predation is the most ef-
fective way to survive. The early action, unlike the scenic descrip-
tion, is narrated in an abrupt and hurried fashion which contrasts
sharply with the smoothly flowing opening of Pierre. In both books,
however, technique is appropriate to meaning. As a youth, Pierre
glides through his daily life, but Israel is tossed from one situation
to another. The opening chapters of Pierre are told in such a way
as to emphasize the comfortable security of Pierre's home at Saddle
Meadows, a home which he then rejects. No such sense of home is
presented in Israel Potter, for the narrator wishes to establish Is-
rael's world as one of lonely isolation, one which rejects him.
In such a world, it is evident that there is no pattern of events

2. Israel Potter: His Fifty Years of Exile (New York, 1963), p. 2. All sub-
sequent references to Israel Potter will be to this edition and will appear in
the text.


52





Israel Potter AND The Confidence-Man


upon which Israel can depend, a fact indicated in a number of
ways of which the abrupt linking of unlooked-for events is but one.

Three days out of Boston harbor, the brigantine was captured
by the enemy's ship Foy, of twenty guns. Taken prisoner with
the rest of the crew, Israel was afterwards put on board the
frigate Tartar, with immediate sailing orders for England.
Seventy-two were captives in this vessel. Headed by Israel,
these men-halfway across the sea-formed a scheme to take
the ship, but were betrayed by a renegade Englishman. As
ring-leader, Israel was put in irons, and so remained till the
frigate anchored at Portsmouth. There he was brought on
deck; and would have met perhaps some terrible fate, had it
not come out, during the examination, that the Englishman
had been a deserter from the army of his native country ere
proving a traitor to his adopted one (pp. 16-17).

In such a passage the emphasis is upon the outcome of an act, the
change that constantly occurs, rather than upon the situations them-
selves. Many of the changes are shown to be the result of improb-
able circumstances as, for example, the fact of Israel being re-
deemed from some terrible fate because he was turned in by a
traitor. There is little causal relationship between events, and this
is reinforced by the narrator's tendency to shift back and forth be-
tween past and present. "And here in the black bowels of the ship,
sunk low in the sunless sea, our poor Israel lay for a month, like
Jonah in the belly of the whale. But one bright morning, Israel is
hailed from the deck" (p. 17-emphasis mine). It is thus as diffi-
cult to find a pattern to the sequence of time as it is to the sequence
of events. Israel has no home, no friend, no particular duty to per-
form other than to survive. He rushes from one narrow escape to
another, seeking "with stubborn patience to habituate himself to
misery, but still hold aloof from despondency" (p. 28). Hunted like
an animal, he is often referred to as an animal, "harassed day and
night, hunted from food and sleep, driven from hole to hole like a
fox in the woods" (p. 36). The world is thus pictured as one in
which events occur for no logical reason, in which time seems to be
of little significance, and in which personal relationships are casual.
During the course of his adventures, Israel encounters three in-
dividuals who function as rather obvious foils to the faceless hero.
Ben Franklin, John Paul Jones, and Ethan Allen have distinct per-


53





MELVILLE S ANGLES OF VISION


sonalities and act on definite assumptions fittingly summarized by
Poor Richard's maxim that "God helps them that help themselves."
In contrast to Potter, they are presented as having well-defined psy-
chological perspectives; they conceive of themselves as separate
from their environment, able to choose, act, and influence events.
In reality, however, they have scarcely more opportunity to direct
their own actions than does Israel. Paul Jones, of the three the one
with whom Israel spends the most time, feels that in order to suc-
ceed he must have "a separate, supreme command; no leader and
no counsellor but himself" (p. 74). In spite of this self-confidence,
he is unable to conquer the elements, and his battles are frequently
hindered or stopped by the power of the winds or the shape of
the land: "The career of this stubborn adventurer signally illustrates
the idea that since all human affairs are subject to organic disorder,
since they are created in and sustained by a sort of half-disciplined
chaos, hence he who in great things seeks success must never wait
for smooth water, which never was and never will be, but, with
what straggling method he can, dash with all his derangements at
his object, leaving the rest to Fortune" (p. 151).
The meeting between Jones's Bon Homme Richard and the Brit-
ish Serapis is an illustration of the illusionary aspect of Jones's per-
sonal independence. As depicted by the narrator, the battle is not
masterminded by Jones but arranged by invisible powers, con-
ducted as "an intestine feud," and concluded without a winner.
Chaos and death are the only results of this mutually destructive
battle in which it is almost impossible to tell friend from foe, a fact
which underscores the meaninglessness of psychological perspec-
tive. The outcome is determined less by human plan than by
chance. When fire becomes the common foe of both ships, mutual
obliteration seems inevitable. "The men of either knew hardly
which to do-strive to destroy the enemy, or save themselves" (p.
170). When the Serapis strikes her colors, the Richard is the victor,
but in name only: "About ten o'clock the Richard, gorged with
slaughter, wallowed heavily, gave a long roll, and blasted by tor-
nadoes of sulphur, slowly sunk, like Gomorrah, out of sight" (p.
173). This ironic sinking of the victorious Richard as well as the
bestial qualities suggested by its death throes and the allusion to
Gomorrah are indicative of the futility and sordidness of human ac-
tions. In spite of Paul Jones's conception of himself, the control of
his destiny lies primarily with forces outside himself. Survival, not
growth and achievement, must be his concern as well as Potter's.


54





Israel Potter AND The Confidence-Man


Israel and Jones part company later when Jones's new ship, the
Ariel, and an unidentified English ship meet and for an hour prac-
tice mutual deception as each tries to learn the identity of the other,
an endeavor fitting for the sequel to follow. Confusion results, and
Israel accidently finds himself aboard the English ship, which flees
from and finally escapes the Ariel. Once again his plans are abruptly
changed by an unlocked for set of circumstances; once again he is
forced to save himself in a hostile environment. The fact that his
task is made slightly easier by his speaking the same language and
wearing the same clothes as his captors is actually a continuation of
the theme of "intestine feud," for he must seek a place and an
identity among people who are both his brothers and his enemies.
Israel's search, a striking example of Melville's ability to relate
form to meaning, is a crystallization of the book itself, for the Eng-
lish ship is a microcosm of the hostile world in which the protago-
nist must find a place among his fellow men by relying totally on
his wits. It is also an example of Melville's use of physical place to
parallel thought. During the course of the chapter, Israel moves
downward from the ship's maintop, as does White Jacket, in seeking
a place with every group aboard. But Israel's experience is distinctly
different from White Jacket's. In each case he is faced with the same
question: "'Who are you?'" Unable to answer satisfactorily, he is
forced to shift his physical position and to continue trying to find a
group with which he can identify. His movement carries him down
to the hold of the ship, where, "as a last resort, he dived down
among the holders" (p. 179), but there he is once again informed,
"'you don't belong."'" Even when he seeks a place among the
waisters, "the vilest caste of an armed ship's company" (p. 179), he
is rejected. At last, day breaks, and he is discovered. In frustration
at not being able to identify Israel, who now pretends to be mad,
the officer-of-the-deck has him led away by the master-at-arms.
Asked by the captain to what end he leads Israel about, the master-
at-arms replies, "'To no end in the world, sir. I keep leading him
about because he has no final destination'" (p. 186). Again Israel
is asked who he is, and again he is unable to answer. "So they re-
sumed their devious wanderings" (p. 188). Artistically, the entire
chapter is a superb example of the author as craftsman visually il-
lustrating his book's theme.
"Who are you?" is the major question in Israel Potter, one which
indicates the difference between this book and those preceding it,
for the earlier central figures all have a strong sense of personal


55





MELVILLE'S ANGLES OF VISION


identity, the result of a consciousness of place which enables them
to view their world from a specific psychological perspective. Here,
however, the form and theme of the book combine in such a way as
to ensure that no one, neither character nor reader, can be certain
of Israel's proper place within his environment. Potter is caught up
in events and swept along. He has no consciousness of himself as
someone distinct, someone who can influence the course of events.
The London scenes which conclude the book emphasize this point.
Whether buried in the clay pits of the brick yard or compared to a
herring in the "gulf-stream of humanity" (p. 210), Israel is depicted
as merely one other brick or one other fish. He has no distinctive
identity and is in no way free to act independently. "Somehow he
continued to subsist, as those tough old oaks of the cliffs, which,
though hacked at by hailstones of tempests, and even wantonly
maimed by the passing woodman, still, however cramped by rival
trees and fettered by rocks, succeed, against all odds, in keeping
the vital nerve of the tap-root alive" (p. 220). The structure of the
book as well as individual scenes within it are shaped so as to em-
phasize a world in which man cannot hope to determine his own
actions. Events force him to respond. The best he can do is to find a
place and hold on.

What little the reader learns about the personal identity of Israel
Potter is considerable when compared to what he learns about the
central figure of Melville's final novel, The Confidence-Man. The
disguises and mental agility which enable Potter to evade his pur-
suers are used by the confidence man to evade the reader as well
as characters within the book. We do not even know what the con-
fidence man looks like underneath his various disguises, let alone
what he thinks. In no other work of the Melville canon is the per-
sonal identity of a character as much a mystery as it is here, and
appropriately in no other work of the canon is perspective employed
as it is here. Given all its implications, perspective was extremely
useful to Melville throughout this 1846-1856 decade as a reflection
of his thought. Now in The Confidence-Man, whether seen as an
ultimate statement of blackness or as indirectly leading to some-
thing more hopeful, the subtleties of perspective are given their
fullest treatment. In Israel Potter psychological perspective is sig-
nificant by its absence; in The Confidence-Man it is a tool of the
hero. No longer a device used by the author to reveal character, it


56





Israel Potter AND The Confidence-Man


is now a weapon to be used by the protagonist against his vic-
tims.3 The ability to use perspective is what distinguishes the con-
fidence man from all other Melvillean heroes. Of the various faces
presented in the book, which, if any, is the confidence man's own
we never know. What his own psychological perspective is we can
only guess. We know only that he is a man who can use the psycho-
logical perspective of others to establish supremacy over them. He
is so skillful that he seems frequently to manipulate his intended
victims for fun as well as profit, engaging in the second half of the
book in lengthy debates with fellow confidence men where there
seems to be little chance of monetary reward. Perspective is thus
basic to The Confidence-Man because it explains, first of all, the
technique of the book's hero, who is cleverly attuned to the psycho-
logical perspectives of those around him.
More than this, however, the protagonist's ability to use perspec-
tive for his own ends is suggestive of what an author does in con-
structing a work of fiction. Both confidence man and author create
and manipulate psychological perspectives in order to achieve pre-
determined effects. The importance of this implied similarity lies
in the cynical suggestion that the words of an author can be trusted
no more than those of the confidence man. Both are manipulators,
and perhaps neither is reliable. It is in this novel, where he most
thoroughly and despairingly explores the relationship between fic-
tion and truth, that Melville most clearly reflects meaning in form.
Perspective becomes a device used by both author and hero to de-
ceive their victims, who, in the case of the author, are the readers.
The fictional mode thus resembles the fiction itself, for the reader
discovers that the author, like his hero, is using perspective not to
reveal but to obscure.
The Confidence-Man, like Mardi and Clarel, is structured upon a
series of dramatic confrontations between the protagonist and the
world around him. As in no other work in the canon, however,

3. In a 1964 "Afterword" to the Signet edition of The Confidence-Man,
R. W. B. Lewis makes the following comment: "The first and most accom-
plished of the confidence men in the novel is the author; and his first potential
victim is the inattentive reader" (New York, 1964, p. 265). I hope Professor
Lewis is suggesting that the second potential victim is the attentive reader,
for we are drawn, as he says, "through intellectual laughter to something like
intellectual panic" (p. 264). It is easy, by the book's end, to adopt a stance
like Egbert, Mark Winsome's disciple. Lewis' comments point to an interpre-
tation which supports what Melville is doing in the book with perspective.


57





MELVILLE'S ANGLES OF VISION


here the significance of the confrontations is directed outward,
away from the protagonist, rather than inward, toward him. While
revealing little about the confidence man, the book indicates a great
deal about the world, a fact which relates it more closely to Israel
Potter than to any of Melville's other works. The first chapter con-
tains an action symbolic of the form that the book is to take. After
coming aboard the Fidele at sunrise on the first day of April, a date
which should make the reader wary of what he is told even by an
author, the confidence man moves through the crowd with a slate
upon which he writes several definitions of charity, all of which are
St. Paul's, not his. The way in which the definitions are written in-
dicates the protagonist's future technique. "The word charity, as
originally traced, remained throughout uneffaced, not unlike the
left-hand numeral of a printed date, otherwise left for convenience
in blank."' The words written on the right-hand portion of the slate
are changed at will in order to provide different characteristics of
"charity," an absolute which remains unchanged but never defined.
Similarly, during the book the confidence man, maintaining a con-
sistent allegiance to "charity," alters his appearance as well as his
argument in order to extort money and confidence from his victims.
The action is thus a series of confrontations between two psycho-
logical perspectives, at least one of which is always contrived. It is
the task of the confidence man, in the guise which is most appro-
priate to the particular confrontation, to make the many minds re-
ferred to in the title of Chapter 2 view the world from a single psy-
chological perspective.
Disguised as a crippled Negro, for example, the protagonist ap-
pears among the passengers early in order to set up later meetings.
This disguise seems carefully chosen to elicit a response of distrust.
Whether he is really crippled or even a Negro is a question raised
by "a limping, gimlet-eyed, sour-faced person" (p. 11) whose single
eye and leg are "'emblematic of his one-sided view of humanity' "
(p. 15). When several other passengers begin to doubt the Negro's
authenticity, he is able to specify that there are men aboard who
will vouch for him. These men, of course, are only the confidence
man himself in various disguises. The scene is important, for the
fact that the "ge'mmen" mentioned are now viewed by the pas-

4. The Confidence-Man: His Masquerade (New York, 1954), p. 3. All
subsequent references to The Confidence-Man will be to this edition and will
appear in the text.


58





Israel Potter AND The Confidence-Man


sengers as people to be trusted, who in vouching for the authen-
ticity of someone else will not have their own authenticity ques-
tioned. The role of the crippled Negro is not important for the
money it earns but because it establishes the psychological perspec-
tive from which the young minister, the country merchant, and
others will regard the later disguises.
Profit seems to be only one of the confidence man's motives, for
he frequently initiates encounters which do not promise much if
any material reward. He appears to be motivated at these times by
the sheer enjoyment of the game, the pleasure of playing with per-
spective. His meeting with the Missouri bachelor, for example,
offers greater challenge than reward. The bachelor's thoughts-"'I
have confidence in distrust' (p. 123)-are just the opposite of those
professed by the confidence man in his guise of an herb-doctor.
Though the Missourian is aware of nature's healthy aspect, he is
more impressed by its destructive side: "'Look you, nature! I don't
deny but your clover is sweet, and your dandelions don't roar; but
whose hailstones smashed my windows?'" (p. 124). To the confi-
dence man, this is a hard case, a challenge which is hurled directly
at him. Wagging the raccoon tail of his cap in the herb-doctor's face,
the bachelor taunts him, "'Can you, the fox, catch him?'" (p. 126).
The herb-doctor changes the subject, seemingly to permit the con-
versation to become more cordial but in reality to set up his next
disguise. He has accepted the challenge and has gathered all the
information necessary to dupe this misanthropic enthusiast. Reap-
pearing as a representative of the Philosophical Intelligence Office,
an employment agency, the confidence man takes the opportunity
to surLe(st views on the subject of human nature different from
those set forward by the Missourian: "'Anew regard the man-child
.. in the perspective of his developments'" (p. 139). The Missour-
ian accuses him of punning "'with ideas as another man may with
words' (p. 141), but eventually he yields and even adopts the con-
fidence man's argument. "'Yes, yes, yes,' excitedly cried the bache-
lor, as the light of this new illustration broke in, 'yes, yes; and now
that I think of it, how often I've sadly watched my Indian corn in
May, wondering whether such sickly, half-eaten sprouts, could ever
thrive up into the stiff, stately spear of August'" (p. 143). The con-
fidence man finally convinces him at least to experiment with these
"new views of boys, and men, too" (p. 145). As the bachelor later
realizes, he was vulnerable on "the castle's south side, its genial one"


59





MELVILLE S ANGLES OF VISION


(p. 148). Because of limited psychological perspective, he is not
prepared for an attack from all sides, a situation upon which the
confidence man thrives. "Was the man a trickster, it must be more
for the love than the lucre. Two or three dirty dollars the motive
to so many nice wiles?" (p. 148). That the confidence man does in-
deed love the game is apparent in the fact that he approaches the
Missourian in yet a third disguise. As the cosmopolitan, he argues
from another angle but one which still insists on a single perspec-
tive. "'If I take your parable right,' says the bewildered Missourian,
"'the meaning is, that one cannot enjoy life with gusto unless he re-
nounce the too-sober view of life'" (p. 153).
Like the actions of the protagonist, the book itself is structured
so as to deceive, to force the victim to concentrate on appearances
rather than on what, if anything, lies beneath the surface. Leon Selt-
zer feels that "Melville's novel is, in its very refusal to illuminate
what is behind the appearances it presents, . able to increase our
Consciousness of the inscrutable nature of reality."5 This statement
is true, but it does not go far enough in indicating what Melville
does. In Israel Potter he refuses to reveal what lies behind appear-
ances, but in The Confidence-Man he questions the appearance it-
self. As Seltzer himself points out, "the obvious circumstance that
all of Melville's book is fiction anyway (the author is so bold as to
declare this outright in his three chapters on authorial commentary)
finally reduces all . logical considerations to complete irrele-
vance."6 Melville not only declares the fiction but also illustrates it
by his style, which is as deceptive as that of the confidence man.
Attempts to uncover the hero's true character are inevitably de-
feated: "This ... added a third angle to the discussion, which now
became a sort of triangular duel, and ended, at last, with but a tri-
angular result" (p. 104). A similar result greets the reader who tries
to decide whether some of Melville's sentences are very deep or
merely very murky-"In vain did his counsel, striving to make out
the derangement to be where, in fact, if anywhere, it was, urge
that, to hold otherwise, to hold that such a being as Goneril was
sane, this was constructively a libel upon womankind" (p. 68). Sim-
ilarly, when one examines the chapters on the techniques of char-
acterization, he discovers that Melville is playing with the whole

5. "Camus's Absurd and the World of Melville's Confidence-Man," PMLA
82 (March 1967):22.
6. Seltzer, p. 21.


60





Israel Potter AND The Confidence-Man


concept of Truth. In Chapter 14 he calls for characters to be true to
real life even in its inconsistencies but finds it strange in Chapter 33
"that in a work of amusement, this severe fidelity to real life should
be exacted by any one" (p. 206). Both statements are well de-
fended, and each is by itself convincing. Taken together, however,
they offer contradictory views of the same object. Neither is any
more reliable than one of the protagonist's disguises. The reader,
who must take everything on a faith born of confidence in the au-
thor, finds that confidence cleverly and continually undermined by
sentences and statements such as those above. Both author and
hero manipulate perspective so that there is finally no difference
between fiction and truth, between story and fictional mode. The
work of fiction and the words of the confidence man are both artful
disguises designed to victimize the innocent, and both are symbol-
ized in Chapter 44 by the revolving Drummond Light, which rays
"away from itself all around it" (p. 271). Both story and fictional
mode direct attention outwards tb the words that have been spoken,
rather than inwards to whatever meaning they conceal.
The close relationship between fiction and mode may be clearly
seen in the chapters with Charlie Noble, Mark Winsome, and Eg-
bert. Though the confidence man asks both Charlie and Egbert for
money, his central interest would seem to be in the pleasure of de-
bate. Unlike the first half of the book, which presents a series of
confrontations between seducer and seduced, the second half in-
volves debates between confidence men of equal ability. Each
man, much like an author, hides his true identity and discusses or
argues questions, "scholastically and artistically" (p. 213), from psy-
chological perspectives which are deliberately formulated for the
issue of the moment. The conversation between Egbert and the
confidence man as well as the subject of that conversation illustrates
how one can avoid revealing his own thoughts by playing with psy-
chological perspective. When Egbert asks how the confidence man
likes Mark Winsome, for example, the reply avoids a direct answer:
"'That each member of the human guild is worthy respect, my
friend,' rejoined the cosmopolitan, 'is a fact which no admirer of
that guild will question; but that, in view of higher natures, the
word sublime, so frequently applied to them, can, without confu-
sion, be also applied to man, is a point which man will decide for
himself; though, indeed, if he decide it in the affirmative, it is not
for me to object"' (pp. 225-26). Their discussion centers upon a


61









MELVILLE'S ANGLES OF VISION


hypothetical situation involving two hypothetical friends: "'Mind,
now, you must work up your imagination, and, as much as possible,
talk and behave just as if the case supposed were a fact'" (p.
226). Not only is this in reality what an author does in creating a
work of fiction, but it is also what Melville seems to be saying ex-
plicitly in the three chapters on characterization. He looks at the
same subject from several angles, making each as convincing as
possible but without committing himself to any.
This scene between Egbert and the cosmopolitan, when com-
pared to the earlier ones in Typee or Redburn, is indicative of the
central difference between The Confidence-Man and Melville's pre-
vious work. Here two individuals argue from psychological per-
spectives not their own about an issue in which they are not in-
volved. Neither is vitally concerned about the outcome since the
argument is hypothetical to begin with. The psychological perspec-
tives of Tommo and Redburn, on the other hand, are not hypotheti-
cal. Each acts according to the way he personally views the world.
His identity is revealed by a study of his perspective, which is thus
an element of character rather than of plot. The form, as well as
the meaning of the fiction, leads the reader inward by way of spe-
cific angles of vision toward the heart of a character; at the same
time, it implies that man, who must necessarily regard objects from
single perspectives, will never be able to comprehend what lies at
the center. In The Confidence-Man, however, Melville no longer
cherishes "expectations with regard to some mode of infallibly dis-
covering the heart of man" (p. 79). Perspective no longer reveals
character; it now furthers the plot, directing the reader outward
away from the heart of man. The fictional mode of the book does
the same thing by its deceptive phrasing and its fluid handling of
subject. At the end the reader can trust neither the author nor the
protagonist. In the earlier works if man is prevented by human limi-
tations from ever striking through the mask that hid Truth, in The
Confidence-Man he is forced to question the very existence of Truth
itself.


62






7

Conclusion-B#l/y Budd Sailor







MY CONCERN in the preceding discussion of Melville's
prose fiction is with the author's interest in per-
spective, both physical and psychological. I have sought not to
prove a specific generalization about the use of perspective but to
indicate that it functions importantly throughout the canon. The
implications of the fact that man operates under the limitations of
single perspectives influence the themes explored by Melville as
well as the forms in which the explorations occur. Rather than re-
state these points, I would prefer to suggest in this concluding chap-
ter that the critical disagreement concerning Melville's attitude
toward Captain Vere in Billy Budd, Sailor can perhaps be illumi-
nated by an analysis of psychological perspective as it operates
within that story.
After the passing of more than three decades between the pub-
lication of The Confidence-Man and the writing of Billy Budd, Mel-
ville returned to the earlier fictional mode of White Jacket and
Moby-Dick rather than to that discussed in Chapter 6 of this study.'
Perspective again becomes a method whereby the author can re-
veal rather than obscure, and thus is an element of character rather
than plot. However, in Billy Budd perspective is essentially the-
matic rather than artistic. It is the thesis of this study that Melville
uses perspective to structure his novels so that form ultimately par-
allels content, as it does in the fall of White Jacket and the increas-
ing isolation of Pierre. Such formal expressions of theme, however,
do not operate significantly in Melville's last prose work. But per-
spective functions, as it does earlier, to reveal character and is thus
1. Dryden's "Epilogue" chapter in Melville's Thematics of Form works
along similar lines as my discussion here of Billy Budd. My concern with per-
spective supports many of the conclusions he draws in that chapter with re-
gard to the form of Billy Budd.
63





MELVILLE S ANGLES OF VISION


an aspect of the story which we should consider before assessing its
final meaning. In choosing to act absolutely on the basis of a partic-
ular angle of vision, Vere condemns himself to the limitations of a
single perspective. The narrative concerns itself with these limita-
tions and in so doing suggests that instead of occupying a special
role in the canon, Vere is very much like other Melvillean heroes
who choose to act absolutely and who seek to deny personal respon-
sibility for that choice.
The critical position which sees Vere as hero is well argued in
Milton Stern's The Fine Hammered Steel: "Vere rejects both lure
and quester. His heartbroken rejection of Budd as a beautiful im-
possibility in favor of an ugly reality, his decision to force his posi-
tion of command to operate according to what his head dictates and
his heart detests, is his acceptance of this world as the only possible
one. It is not, as many critics have attempted to demonstrate, an
acceptance of God and a submission to Fate. It is quite the opposite.
It is Melville's reluctant, modified, but final acceptance of historical
necessity in a naturalistic universe. It is a consequent call for man
to control his fate by controlling his actions in the historical world
-and it is also Melville's statement of inability to find the way to
do so."2 Stern's analysis-which describes Vere's action in the glow-
ing terms appropriate to one who feels that Vere is Melville's "one
real hero"-is significant both for what it says that Vere does and
for what it says that Melville does. Vere and Melville are somehow
identified so that Vere's story is also Melville's "acceptance of his-
torical necessity." W. E. Sedgwick is even more explicit in stating
that "it is not that Captain Vere (or Melville) has capitulated in
the sense of abdicating his speculative mind and his idealism";3 it
is that he accepts the "sorrowful mystery of life," "the yoke of neces-
sity." Therefore, according to Sedgwick, Melville reverses himself
from his earlier writings, so that what "had been vanity before, to
build a Chinese Wall in one's soul, is now the part of wisdom." Both
Sedgwick and Stern read Billy Budd as Melville's answer to the di-
lemmas of human existence. Whether we call it an acceptance of
God or an acceptance of necessity, the emphasis remains on the
fact that it is Melville's acceptance. But the writings prior to Billy
Budd stress the fact that in the Melvillean universe no absolute an-

2. Stern, p. 27.
3. Herman Melville: The Tragedy of Mind (Cambridge, Mass., 1945), p.
239.


64





CONCLUSION-Billy Budd, Sailor


swer is possible. Man is too limited to see all sides of an issue. The
experience of the canon, therefore, seems to indicate that Vere's
actions, like Ahab's, have personal rather than heroic implications.4
Vere does not become central until rather late in the story, but
by then the narrator has emphasized the importance of perspective.
It is, first of all, "an inside narrative,"5 one which views the events
as would an insider, someone privy to what actually happens though
not necessarily to why it happens. The phrase has several implica-
tions, one of which is that other narratives of the same events are
also possible. The word "inside" suggests that there are outside nar-
ratives, a suggestion supported by the story's inclusion of a news-
paper account of the incidents. Even the use of the indefinite article
hints of other inside narratives. One other implication of the phrase
is that from his point of view what the narrator is about to relate is
reliable, and, in comparison with the concluding official account, it
probably is. After reading "Benito Cereno," Israel Potter, and The
Confidence-Man, however, one cannot help wondering whether
the events recounted in "an inside narrative" might not be inter-
preted in several ways.
Psychological perspective is further emphasized in the early sec-
tions of the story by the fact that the narrator stresses not events
but individual responses to events as, for example, the contrasting
responses of Lieutenant Ratcliffe and Captain Graveling to the im-
pressment of Billy. The acquiescence of Billy himself is also empha-
sized, because it is indicative of the psychological perspective which
underlies it, one which is later symbolized by Billy's physical per-
spective aboard the Bellipotent: "Life in the foretop well agreed
with Billy Budd. There, when not actually engaged on the yards
yet higher aloft, the topmen, who as such has been picked out for
youth and activity, constituted an aerial club lounging at ease
against the smaller stun'sails rolled up into cushions, spinning yarns
like the lazy gods, and frequently amused with what was going on
in the busy world of the decks below. No wonder then that a young
fellow of Billy's disposition was well content in such society" (p.

4. An argument against seeing Vere as hero is persuasively presented by
Charles Mitchell in "Melville and the Spurious Truth of Legalism," Centennial
Review of Arts and Science 12 (1968):110-26. Mitchell also seeks to place
Billy Budd in the larger context of the Melville canon.
5. Billy Budd, Sailor, ed. Harrison Hayford and Merton M. Sealts, Jr.
(Chicago and London, 1962), p. 41. All subsequent references to Billy Budd
will be to this edition and will appear in the text.


65





MELVILLE'S ANGLES OF VISION


68). Such a physical location is appropriate to Billy, who psycho-
logically is above the everyday world. He has no intuitive knowl-
edge of evil and is, therefore, totally limited to a single perspective
-a sharp contrast to Jack Chase, his counterpart in White Jacket,
who is aware of other perspectives.
Billy's encounter with Claggart, the master-at-arms, centers upon
the disparity between their perspectives. As the ship's chief of po-
lice, Claggart is "charged among other matters with the duty of
preserving order on the populous lower gun decks" (p. 64), and
thus his physical perspective is different from and as one-sided as
Billy's. So also is his psychological perspective. Billy views the world
from a position of trust, one which admits no sense of evil; Claggart
views it from a position of distrust. "For the adequate comprehend-
ing of Claggart by a normal nature these hints are insufficient. To
pass from a normal nature to him one must cross 'the deadly space
between"'" (p. 74). Claggart's total sense of evil is juxtaposed to
Billy's total sense of good. The confrontation is thus one between
two equally limited psychological perspectives, one limited by in-
nocence, the other by monomania. Given such a confrontation,
"something decisive must come of it" (p. 90).
Unlike Claggart, Billy is completely unable to understand his
enemy even when warned by an old Dansker who, from a psycho-
logical perspective based upon worldly experience, rightly assesses
Claggart's actions. Claggart, however, is intellectually able to ap-
preciate the significance of a different perspective. "One person ex-
cepted, [he] was perhaps the only man in the ship intellectually
capable of adequately appreciating the moral phenomenon pre-
sented in Billy Budd" (p. 78). Claggart does not act out of misun-
derstanding. He knows what he is doing in seeking to destroy Billy
just as Ahab does in his hunt for the white whale. When such men
surrender to the evil within them, their natures recoil upon them-
selves. Had Billy "been conscious of having done or said anything
to provoke the ill will of the official" (p. 88), he would have acted
differently. But Claggart is conscious of the situation, and it is thus
fitting that his action should lead to his own destruction.
"One person excepted," Claggart was the only man capable of
appreciating Billy Budd. That brief phrase, which clearly refers to
Captain Vere, hints of a similarity between the captain and the
master-at-arms. Both men are capable of appreciating the signifi-
cance of perspectives other than their own, but it is largely an in-


66





CONCLUSION-Billy Budd, Sailor


tellectual appreciation. Each chooses to follow a course of action
based upon a singularly limited psychological perspective, limited
both by human capabilities and individual blindness. Though the
following passage refers explicitly to Claggart, it hints further at the
intellectual similarity of Claggart and Vere.

But the thing which in eminent instances signalizes so excep-
tional a nature is this: Though the man's even temper and dis-
creet bearing would seem to intimate a mind peculiarly subject
to the law of reason, not the less in heart he would seem to
riot in complete exemption from that law, having apparently
little to do with reason further than to employ it as an ambi-
dexter implement for effecting the irrational. That is to say:
Toward the accomplishment of an aim which in wantonness
of atrocity would seem to partake of the insane, he will direct
a cool judgment sagacious and sound. These men are madmen,
and of the most dangerous sort, for their lunacy is not con-
tinuous, but occasional, evoked by some special object; it is
protectively secretive, which is as much as to say it is self-
contained, so that when, moreover, most active it is to the av-
erage mind not distinguishable from sanity, and for the reason
above suggested: that whatever its aims may be-and the aim
is never declared-the method and the outward proceeding
are always perfectly rational (p. 76).


"Even temper and discreet bearing," "a mind peculiarly subject to
the law of reason," "a cool judgment sagacious and sound," these
are qualities which also characterize Captain Vere. The accusation
that he, too, employs reason "as an ambidexter implement for effect-
ing . some special object" is never made, but in this and later pas-
sages the narrator invites speculation. The use of reason to effect
the irrational is the act which best characterizes a nature such as
Claggart's, a nature which knows of alternatives but which will-
fully limits itself to a single angle of vision and a destructive course
of action. Certainly it is too severe to equate Claggart and Vere-
Vere, for example, appreciates Billy emotionally as well as intellec-
tually-but the similarities exist and should be considered before de-
ciding that Vere is Melville's "one real hero." Vere responds to a set
of circumstances which force him to act. The reader must be con-
cerned with that act and the psychological perspective upon which
it is based. Unlike other characters in the story, Vere has the ability


67





MELVILLE S ANGLES OF VISION


and power to recognize and act upon perspectives different from
his own. That possibility is rare in Melville and one which, if exer-
cised, could indeed make Vere heroic.
Though Captain Vere does not appear until the second half of
Billy Budd, he is introduced by the narrator earlier in discussing the
events occurring at the time of Billy's impressment. The date of the
story, the summer of 1797, is important to what happens later since
it is only a few months after the Great Mutiny, an event "analogous
to the distempering irruption of contagious fever in a frame consti-
tutionally sound" (p. 55). Restoring and maintaining a healthy, and
therefore ordered, navy is essential. Strong leaders are severely
challenged, weak ones can easily break. The narrator mentions the
names of several leaders in discussing these background events, men
who command in different ways and inspire by different passions.
The charismatic leader, like Admiral Nelson, seeks not "to terrorize
the crew into base subjection, but to win them, by force of his mere
presence and heroic personality, back to an allegiance if not as en-
thusiastic as his own yet as true" (p. 59). Captain Vere, on the other
hand, is a leader "mindful of the welfare of his men, but never tol-
erating an infraction of discipline" (p. 60).6 A disciplinarian in the
summer of 1797, fully aware of the events occurring a short while
before and commanding a ship whose crew, like others in the
British Navy, is partially composed of criminals and impressed men,
would probably react to a threatened mutiny in a way very differ-
ent from Admiral Nelson's. Even if one does not wish to conclude
from the presentation of each man's characteristics that Vere is the
lesser of the two men, he should notice that, no matter how neces-
sary Vere's later actions may seem, the narrator in the early pages
indicates that other men might respond differently. When the story
focuses on Vere, it is as a specific individual rather than as a repre-
sentative hero.
From Captain Vere's perspective, one that reflects both his tem-
perament and the current naval crisis, there can be only one re-
sponse to Billy Budd's killing of Claggart: "'Struck dead by an angel
of God. Yet the angel must hang!'" (p. 101). It is a response like
that of Pierre when he decides to leave Saddle Meadows, for both
men react absolutely to situations where alternative possibilities

6. For a recent comparison of these two versions of the naval commander,
see Ralph W. Willett, "Nelson and Vere: Hero and Victim in Billy Budd,
Sailor," PMLA 82 (October 1967):370-76.


68





CONCLUSION-Billy Budd, Sailor


might be available; their subsequent actions are entirely the result
of the choice. Pierre's decision is based on a limited psychological
perspective, and Vere's is equally so. Pierre chooses to follow the
heart, Vere the head: "The father in him . was replaced by
the military disciplinarian" (p. 100).
The fact that Vere's is only one of several possible decisions is
emphasized by the reaction of the ship's surgeon, who, having been
informed by Vere that he plans to call a drumhead court, is "full of
disquietude and misgiving" (p. 101). He not only has a different
response but is also the first to suggest that what Vere is planning to
do is not the usual course of action. Nor are the surgeon's thoughts
restricted to himself, for the lieutenants and captain of marines
"fully shared his own surprise and concern. Like him too, they
seemed to think that such a matter should be referred to the ad-
miral" (p. 102). Regardless of who is right, it is clear that the nar-
rator wishes us to see that Vere speaks only for himself. "Whether
Captain Vere, as the surgeon professionally and privately surmised,
was really the sudden victim of any degree of aberration, every one
must determine for himself by such light as this narrative may af-
ford" (p. 102). Vere's actions are both personal and unusual.
Whether they are necessary to preserve order or are the reflection
of the thoughts of a weak and frightened man is crucial to deter-
mining if Vere is really Melville's "one real hero."
Being "a man of rapid decision" (p. 103) and fearing that mutiny
might result from public announcement of the crime, Vere acts
quickly: "Very far was he from embracing opportunities for mo-
nopolizing to himself the perils of moral responsibility, none at least
that could properly be referred to an official superior or shared
with him by his official equals or even subordinates. So thinking, he
was glad it would not be at variance with usage to turn the matter
over to a summary court of his own officers" (p. 104). But Vere is
always very much in charge of the trial. He calls it, selects the
judges, is the only witness, and dictates the verdict. When one
judge, the officer of marines, concerns himself with motives rather
than facts and directs some questions toward Billy, Vere interrupts
after a glance from Billy, who deems Vere his friend: "'It seems to
me, the point you make is hardly material. Quite aside from any
conceivable motive actuating the master-at-arms, and irrespective
of the provocation to the blow, a martial court must needs in the
present case confine its attention to the blow's consequence, which


69





MELVILLE S ANGLES OF VISION


consequence justly is to be deemed not otherwise than as the
striker's deed'" (p. 107). As the narrator is quick to point out, this
speech indicates a prejudgment, one that is immediately impressed
upon each of the three officers. Vere continues to shut off debate
both by his words and by "a glance more effective than words" (p.
108) at the first lieutenant.
After Billy leaves the cabin, the three judges begin deliberation
upon a verdict, but once again it is Vere who directs the court
though he would prefer to think differently: "'Hitherto I have been
but the witness, little more' (p. 109). In his words, which, accord-
ing to the narrator, are suggestive "of a certain pedantry" imputed
to Vere by other naval captains, Vere makes himself most vulner-
able to the charge that he uses "a cool judgment sagacious and
sound" to accomplish an aim which is never declared. He sympa-
thizes with the court's hesitancy, the product of the conflict be-
tween duty and "'scruple vitalized by compassion,"'" but insists
that its concern must be with duty. Scruples enervate decision.
" 'Do these buttons that we wear attest that our allegiance is to
Nature?'" (p. 110). No longer free agents, they are not responsible
for the rigor of the law. "'Let not warm hearts betray heads that
should be cool' (p. 111). Personal feelings must be ruled out. By
the Articles of War, Billy has committed a capital crime which may
be acquitted in heaven, but not on earth. "'War looks but to the
frontage, the appearance"'" (p. 112). The law and not the officers
are responsible. Since attack may come at any moment either from
the enemy or the sailors, it is necessary that a decision be reached
immediately. "Tacitly leaving the three" to decide, Vere then crosses
to the other side of the room. "Loyal lieges, plain and practical,
though at bottom they dissented from some points Captain Vere
had put to them, they were without the faculty, hardly had the in-
clination, to gainsay one whom they felt to be an earnest man, one
too not less their superior in mind than in naval rank" (p. 113). The
trial serves merely to rubberstamp Vere's earlier decision.
The major points of Vere's argument, one well stated and quite
persuasive, recall similar words by Ahab, Pierre, and Plinlimmon.
In "The Symphony" chapter of Moby-Dick, Ahab also rejects com-
passion and personal responsibility, arguing that as the agent of
powers greater than he, he must continue his hunt. But man cannot
abdicate responsibility by attributing it to the Fates, the Articles
of War, or the buttons on his chest. One of Melville's major con-


70





CONCLUSION-Billy Budd, Sailor


cerns in White Jacket is to attack this very concept, and the discus-
sion of the Articles of War in that book is particularly interesting
when read alongside Vere's argument. In addition, Vere's emphasis
on the opposition of the interests of this world to those of the next
recalls Plotinus Plinlimmon's pamphlet on chronometricals and horo-
logicals and its argument in favor of a capitulation to the demands
of this world. With such similarities between the thoughts of Vere
and those of earlier figures, the reader's response to the action of
the captain of the Bellipotent can only be one of two. Either (as
Sedgwick has stated and Stern suggested) Melville completely re-
verses himself as the result of his realization of necessity and the
impossibility of his earlier ideals, or he is presenting in Vere a char-
acter who, in his decision to act absolutely, is strikingly similar to
the figures of his earlier works. Vere chooses a course of action
which is equally absolute and equally the result of a single perspec-
tive. It is, therefore, one which is equally open to criticism. Vere's
action is not necessarily the best choice but merely one possible
choice. "Says a writer whom few know, 'Forty years after a battle
it is easy for a noncombatant to reason about how it ought to have
been fought. It is another thing personally and under fire to have to
direct the fighting while involved in the obscuring smoke of it' (p.
114). Such a passage surely expresses sympathy for Vere's situation,
but it in no way endorses the wisdom or justice of the captain's ac-
tion. If, however, characters in other parts of the canon err by
choosing to act absolutely on the basis of their own limited perspec-
tives, then the same point should be considered in assessing Vere's
decision. The narrator understands Vere, but he makes no attempt
to support the captain's action.
Ninety minutes after being confronted by Claggart, Billy is told
that he is to be executed. In emphasizing the brevity of this time
span, the narrator invites the thought that perhaps Vere's action is
as spontaneous and precipitous as Billy's. Had he taken more time
to consider, Vere might have acted differently. The fact that in
Billy's final hours it is his innocence that is stressed suggests that the
reader should question not only the necessity, but also the morality
of Vere's choice. Vere's stated concern is for the Bellipotent, a posi-
tion that is argued clearly, though in different terms, by Plotinus
Plinlimmon. The similarity between Vere and Plinlimmon is dis-
cussed by Sedgwick in support of his contention that Melville has
changed his attitude in his final book, accepting the path of virtuous


71





MELVILLE S ANGLES OF VISION


expediency. "Now he [Melville] sees that because a man acts under
a worldly necessity he does not therefore debase his humanity; his
soul, be it immortal or not, is not soiled thereby."' But such a prag-
matic approach to living is reflected in the actions of the chaplain,
who does not attempt to save Billy from being made "a martyr to
martial discipline" (p. 121). To do so would have been both idle
and audacious since his actions also are dictated by law. Like Plin-
limmon's ideal, he is Christ's servant serving institutions. "Why, then,
is he there? Because ... he lends the sanction of the religion of the
meek to that which practically is the abrogation of everything but
brute Force" (p. 122). This brief condemnation of religious ex-
pediency is precisely the same as that made in White Jacket and is
extremely important for our understanding of Vere, since it follows
immediately after Vere's support of the Articles of War. If the chap-
lain is vulnerable to this kind of criticism, how is it that Vere's soul
is not soiled by his action? Both men serve the Articles of War. Has
Melville changed so much that he now supports secular authority
while continuing to criticize religious authority? It is more likely
that just as the "Bosom Friend" chapter of Moby-Dick offers an in-
direct comment on Father Mapple's sermon so does the criticism of
the chaplain of the Bellipotent imply the narrator's attitude toward
Vere's speech before the drumhead court.
The few pages of the story which follow Billy's death are, as is
frequently the case in Melville, more digressive in appearance than
in reality, for they continue to stress the significance of perspective.
To the account of the incidents already presented are added the
report of a naval newspaper, which feels that "from the naval point
of view" (p. 131) Vere's handling of the situation was correct, and
a ballad of the sailors which presents Billy as a martyr to tyranny.
The narrator's perspective, however, is such that he sees the partial
validity expressed by both the newspaper and the ballad. These
pages, therefore, suggest that we have been shown how the same
event may be interpreted in a variety of ways when viewed by dif-
ferent observers. Three final hints about Vere and his motives fur-
ther support this thesis. In describing the actions of the sailors at
Billy's hanging, the narrator comments that "true martial discipline
long continued superinduces in average man a sort of impulse whose
operation at the official word of command much resembles in its


7. Page 240.


72





CONCLUSION-Billy Budd, Sailor


promptitude the effect of an instinct" (p. 127). Vere certainly is a
man of martial discipline. Perhaps the promptitude of his decision
is more instinctive than, as Stern suggests, the "sacrifice of self to the
necessities of moral responsibility historically defined."8 Or, like
Claggart's undisclosed special objective in seeking to destroy Billy,
perhaps Vere is motivated by ambition and a concern for how his
career might be influenced by scandal or mutiny. Looking ahead
to Vere's death, the narrator remarks that "the spirit that 'spite its
philosophic austerity may yet have indulged in the most secret of
all passions, ambition, never attained to the fulness of fame" (p.
129). Finally, the naval account of the affair praises Claggart's pa-
triotism in carrying out his duties and offers him as a refutation of
Samuel Johnson's assertion that "patriotism is the last refuge of a
scoundrel" (p. 130). Vere also appeals to patriotism in speaking
before the drumhead court. From the narrator's point of view, the
naval assessment of Claggart's character is grossly inaccurate; surely
Claggart is not a refutation of Johnson's view, which, therefore, is
perhaps correct. Though these hints do not reveal what actually
motivates Vere, they are sufficient to make one hesitate to accept
the captain as Melville's "one real hero." Melville has not reversed
himself. He continues to paint the portrait of men who choose to
act absolutely-and, therefore, destructively-on the basis of a
single and necessarily limited angle of vision.

Perspective, as it is used in the Melville canon, functions both
thematically and artistically. Throughout his writings, Melville ex-
plores the implications of the fact that given man's limitations, he
can never realize his desire to comprehend an absolute. Greatness
exists in the desire; tragedy in the limitations; wisdom in the reali-
zation of those limitations. Man is so created that he can never ex-
amine an object from more than one angle of vision at any given
moment. Such characters as Redburn, White Jacket, and the
confidence man come to understand the importance of this fact
and learn to act accordingly. Others, like Pierre and Amasa Delano,
do not and thus blindly continue to pursue a single course of action.
Though Ahab and Vere fully appreciate the fact of perspective,
they choose to blind themselves to its meaning. Such distinctions
between characters suggest that in his writings Melville explores a


8. Stern, p. 27.


73


















74 MELVILLE'S ANGLES OF VISION
variety of possible influences of perspective on the individual. The
significance of perspective fascinated Melville throughout his work,
for it is the one fact of human existence that continues to frustrate
man's desire for knowledge, a desire without which he can never be
great.
But the thematic function of perspective in the canon has long
been a matter of critical concern. This study suggests that Herman
Melville is much more than thinker. He is an artist, a man con-
scious of the elements of his craft and able to use them to reflect
thought in form. I have tried to show that the limitations imposed
upon man's aspirations by his humanity are reflected in the pattern-
ing of events, the use of setting and imagery, and the choice of
character. Melville's angles of vision, his use of perspective, are cen-
tral to his novels, and an understanding of them is essential to our
appreciation of the author as artist. Perspective, since it has both
psychological implications and physical representations, provided
Melville with a basic concept upon which he could build his art;
it provides the reader with an approach to the heart of that fiction.


















UNIVERSITY OF FLORIDA MONOGRAPHS


Humanities


No. 1: Uncollected Letters of James
Gates Percival, edited by Harry R.
Warfel

No. 2: Leigh Hunt's Autobiography:
The Earliest Sketches, edited by
Stephen F. Fogle

No. 3: Pause Patterns in Elizabethan
and Jacobean Drama, by Ants Oras

No. 4: Rhetoric and American Poetry
of the Early National Period, by
Gordon E. Bigelow

No. 5: The Background of The Prin-
cess Casamassima, by W. H. Tilley

No. 6: Indian Sculpture in the John
and Mable Ringling Museum of Art,
by Roy C. Craven, Jr.

No. 7: The Cestus. A Mask, edited
by Thomas B. Stroup


No. 8: Tamburlaine, Part I, and Its
Audience, by Frank B. Fieler
No. 9: The Case of John Darrell:
Minister and Exorcist, by Corinne
Holt Rickert
No. 10: Reflections of the Civil War
in Southern Humor, by Wade H.
Hall
No. 11: Charles Dodgson, Semeioti-
cian, by Daniel F. Kirk
No. 12: Three Middle English Reli-
gious Poems, edited by R. H. Bow-
ers
No. 13: The Existentialism of Miguel
de Unamuno, by Jose Huertas-
Jourda
No. 14: Four Spiritual Crises in Mid-
Century American Fiction, by Rob-
ert Detweiler
No. 15: Style and Society in German
Literary Expressionism, by Egbert
Krispyn













No. 16: The Reach of Art: A Study
in the Prosody of Pope, by Jacob
H. Adler

No. 17: Malraux, Sartre, and Aragon
as Political Novelists, by Catharine
Savage

No. 18: Las Guerras Carlistas y el
Reinado Isabelino en la Obra de
Ramon del Valle-Inclan, por Maria
Dolores Lado

No. 19: Diderot's Vie de Seneque: A
Swan Song Revised, by Douglas A.
Bonneville

No. 20: Blank Verse and Chronology
in Milton, by Ants Oras

No. 21: Milton's Elisions, by Robert
O. Evans

No. 22: Prayer in Sixteenth-Century
England, by Faye L. Kelly

No. 23: The Strangers: The Tragic
World of Tristan L'Hermite, by
Claude K. Abraham

No. 24: Dramatic Uses of Biblical
Allusion in Marlowe and Shake-
speare, by James H. Sims

No. 25: Doubt and Dogma in Maria
Edgeworth, by Mark D. Haw-
thorne

No. 26: The Masses of Francesco
Soriano, by S. Philip Kniseley


No. 27: Love as Death in The Ice-
man Cometh, by Winifred Dusen-
bury Frazer

No. 28: Melville and Authority, by
Nicholas Canaday, Jr.

No. 29: Don Quixote: Hero or Fool?
A Study in Narrative Technique,
by John J. Allen

No. 30: Ideal and Reality in the
Fictional Narratives of Theophile
Gautier, by Albert B. Smith

No. 31: Negritude as a Theme in the
Poetry of the Portuguese-Speaking
World, by Richard A. Preto-Rodas

No. 32: The Criticism of Photography
as Art: The Photographs of Jerry
Uelsmann, by John L. Ward

No. 33: The Kingdom of God in the
Synoptic Tradition, by Richard H.
Hiers

No. 34: Dante Gabriel Rossetti's
Versecraft, by Joseph F. Vogel

No. 35: T. S. Eliot's Concept of
Language: A Study of Its Develop-
ment, by Harry T. Antrim

No. 36: The Consolatio Genre in
Medieval English Literature, by
Michael H. Means

No. 37: Melville's Angles of Vision,
by A. Carl Bredahl, Jr.










Melville's Angles of Vision


A. Carl Bredahl, Jr.


University of Florida Press
Gainesville 1972







physical point on the Neversink forces a recognition on his part of
the limitations of the psychological perspective upon which he has
previously relied. After this, the reader and narrator see more of the
ship and less of White Jacket. Now begins the middle section of the
novel, the documentary section. "How . could any writer unify
seamlessly the variety of materials which we find here."10 Surely the
seams do show, but it is altogether fitting that the narrator's concern
with the affairs of the ship should follow his near fall from his seclu-
sion in the top.
With Chapter 21, we find White Jacket becoming the spokesman
against naval abuses, indicating an identification of himself with
the rest of the crew and a concern for their problems. And he is a
shrewd spokesman, for he is now acutely aware of the effect played
by perspective upon an individual's attitude, an awareness which
is indicated by his assessment of the crew's reaction to the commo-
dore's Polynesian servant. "His tastes were our abominations: ours
his. Our creed he rejected: his we. We thought him a loon: he
fancied us fools. Had the case been reversed; had we been Poly-
nesians and he an American, our mutual opinion of each other
would still have remained the same. A fact proving that neither
was wrong, but both right" (p. 118). The thought expressed here
is later put to practical advantage when White Jacket discusses
flogging. Knowing that he cannot stop the practice simply by call-
ing it wrong while the naval authorities consider it right, he shifts
his argument: "But White-Jacket is ready to come down from the
lofty mast-head of an eternal principle, and fight you-Commo-
dores and Captains of the Navy-on your own quarter-deck, with
your own weapons, at your own paces" (p. 147). Therefore, instead
of arguing a position which might be ignored, he examines it from
their perspective and points out that flogging is ineffective, unneces-
sary, and unlawful.
In addition to or perhaps as a result of giving voice to the sea-
men's complaints, White Jacket begins to take an interest in the
crew. His part in the activity of the ship becomes of major impor-
tance in the passage around Cape Horn; there, White Jacket is high
up on the mast, not as one seeking to fuse himself into the "universe
of things" but as a sailor trying to do his job without losing his life.
No longer alone and superior to those around him, he is one of "a


10. Vincent, p. 110.


White Jacket


33




ITY of FLORIDA HUMANITIES MONOGRAPH Number 37


A. Carl Bredahl, Jr.




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