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Elasticity of mind in Herman Melville's TYPEE : a quest for individuation and voice

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Shealey, Linda T.
Dingledine, Don
MA, English
Dec 2011
Melville, Herman 1819-1891 - Typee; Melville, Herman, 1819-1891 - Characters; American fiction - Men authors - History and criticism
Recent literary criticism of Herman Melville's early Pacific works has focused largely on his relationship to Western imperialism. However, a relationship less engaged and whose influence may be minimized-perhaps due to Moby-Dick's outsized masculinity-is Melville's relationship to women and to the feminine. This thesis considers the central role of Melville's relationship to the feminine from the time of his first novel, Typee, and its impact on the development of his narrative style, evident in Moby-Dick and much of his later writings. This thesis argues that the author's complex personal relationship to the feminine, as set out first in Typee, is impacted by the psychological tasks Melville grapples with as a young man engaged in tasks of self-definition. Tracing an innate inner conflict between rebellion and compliance, the paper speculates that the emerging writer chafed at constraints placed on him by limiting literary genres much as he chafed at rigid gender and sexual boundaries in his personal life, and that he sought a new, more feminized and elastic narrative model. The progress of this exploration is recorded in the text through Melville's portrayal of feminized native landscape and characters, his limited development of female characters, and his discovery of "elasticity of mind," a sign for the feminine. After engaging "elasticity" with the feminized nymphs and encountering the ultra-feminized characters of Fayaway and Kory-Kory, this shifting relationship culminates in the figure of Marnoo, an androgynous, cross-cultural traveler. In Marnoo's feminized yet transitional figure Melville discovers the model for resolving personal and narrative struggles that lead to his later, mature voice. This thesis further argues that Melville's evolving relationship to the feminine provides insight into a narrative approach that reaches fruition in the unique, complex, and sophisticated voice of Moby-Dick's narrator Ishmael, which embodies much of Marnoo's fluidity.
A Thesis Submitted In Partial Fulfillment of the Requirements For the Degree of Master of Arts-English
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