Masculinity in the Works of Herman Melville

2445 WordsJul 9, 201810 Pages
Herman Melville’s novels, with good reason, can be called masculine. Moby-Dick may, also with good reason, be called a man’s book and that Melville’s seafaring episode suggests a patriarchal, anti-feminine approach that adheres to the nineteenth century separation of genders. Value for masculinity in the nineteenth century America may have come from certain expected roles males were expected to fit in; I argue that its value comes from examining it not alone, but in relation to and in concomitance with femininity. As Richard H. Brodhead put it, Moby-Dick is “so outrageously masculine that we scarcely allow ourselves to do justice to the full scope of masculinism” (Brodhead 9). I concur with Brodhead in that remark, and that Melville’s…show more content…
Rather than conforming to aged, socially constructed masculine roles, Melville is challenging them by concealing feminine characteristics in his most manly concepts; he is trying to take “a man born in once independent Man, and,” in this novel, “now [unman] Man” (M-D 391). “[S]mall erections may be finished by their first architects,” Ishmael reflects to himself about the Cathedral of Cologne, but “grand ones, true ones, ever leave the copestone to posterity. God keep me from completing anything” (M-D 125). Melville uses ancient architecture and constructions as phallic metaphors to imply that they must remain incomplete if they are to remembered as “grand” and “true”. A chapter in which gender sentiments are comically muddled is the chapter known as “The Tail”, where Melville takes part in disassembling, at the same time celebrating, this obviously phallic symbol and uses careful and also obvious language to stress its feminine, as well as masculine, qualities. In the tail the “confluent measureless force of the whole whale seems concentrated to a point” (M-D 294), Melville describes what superficially sound as only be phallic and masculine qualities. However, Melville does not allow the “tail” to be easily written off as overtly masculine. The tail’s “amazing strength” does not “cripple the graceful flexion of its motions”; rather it

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