The Social Contract
Melville's Political Thought in "Moby-Dick"
Melville's Political Thought in Moby-Dick
Herman Melville was heavily influenced by the philosophy of Jean-Jacques Rousseau. Because Rousseau died in 1778, 41 years prior to Melville's birth, Melville had access to all of Rousseau's writings. Rousseau's political philosophy evolved as he grew older and there is evidence of a tension in Moby-Dick between the earlier and the later philosophy. Rousseau's early work discusses the ideal of the noble savage, which is epitomized by Queequeg. His later works, in particular the Social Contract, espouse the belief that all people must band together for the common good; this idea appears upon the Pequod as crew members must abandon differences such as race in order to ensure their own safety. While Melville is always vacillating between the two dominant theories of Rousseau's philosophy, in the end, he seems to choose the latter. Queequeg, who epitomizes the ideal of the noble savage, and Ahab, who represents a savage in the state of war, both die. The character that portrays his early philosophy as well as the character that impedes upon his later philosophy are both killed. It is only Ishmael who survives; it is only Ishmael who unfailingly upholds the...
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