Essay on Evil in the Works of Melville and Emerson

Essay on Evil in the Works of Melville and Emerson

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Evil in the Works of Melville and Emerson


Herman Melville, like all other American writers of the mid and late nineteenth century, was forced to reckon with the thoughts and writings of Ralph Waldo Emerson. Emerson celebrated the untapped sources of beauty, strength, and nobility hidden within each individual. Where Emerson was inclined to see each human soul as a beacon of light, however, Melville saw fit to describe and define the darkness, the bitter and harsh world of reality that could dim, diffuse, and even extinguish light. Each man wrote about life in specific terms, while pointing toward human nature in general. The problem of evil paradoxically separates and unites both authors. Emerson looked inward and Melville pushed outward, each searching, each trying to effect change. The problem of evil remains ever-present, driving both men to reinvest in understanding the interconnectedness, the interdependency of human relations. Though "Melville alternately praised and damned 'this Plato who talks thro' his nose' ", Emerson's influence direct or indirect helped to shape Melville's ideology and thus his fiction (Sealts 82).

Both authors acknowledge human pain and suffering, Corruption and vice. Emerson was accused by his contemporaries, including Melville upon occasion, of neglecting these most basic elements of the human condition, turning instead toward the glib optimism of self-reliance. True, Emerson's ideas were rooted in introspection. It was the very essence of humanity's darker side that drove him to search for solutions, for a source of stability, faith, within.

"...our faith comes in moments; our vice is habitual... we grant that life is mean; but how did we find out, that it was mean?" (Emerso...


... middle of paper ...


...o say that "the Emersonian soul is the very axletree of Melville's imagination" (Bishop 144).



Works Cited



Bishop, Jonathan. Emerson on the Soul. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1964.



Braswell, William. Melville's Religious Thought. New York: Pageant Books, 1959.



Cook, Charles H. "Ahab's Intolerable Allegory". Rpt. in Discussions of Moby Dick. Milton Stern ed. Boston:

D.C. Heath Inc., 1960.



Emerson, Ralph Waldo. Emerson's Essays. Philadelphia: David McKay Inc., 1890.



Melville, Herman. Moby Dick. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Inc., 1956.



Parke, John. "Seven Moby Dicks". Rpt in Discussions of Moby Dick Milton Stern ed. Boston: D.C. Heath Inc., 1960.



Sealts, Merton M. Jr. "Emerson as a Teacher" Rpt in Emerson's Centenary Essays. Joel Meyerson ed.

Carbondale: Southern Illinois University Press, 1982.

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