Sexual Themes In Herman Melville's Moby Dick

1606 Words7 Pages
During 1819, Herman Melville was born into a wealthy family near New York City. However merely 13 years later, his family was forced into poverty after the death of his father. In turn, Melville was unable to continue his education. After leaving school he began working immediately to support his family. Then at the age of 22 Melville set sail aboard a whaling vessel, and after his time as a whaler he enlisted in the navy. Melville’s time aboard many ships influenced his writing tremendously. In addition, his friendship with Nathaniel Hawthorne influenced him to write a masterpiece of American literature and one of the greatest stories of all time, Moby-Dick. An important aspect of why it became such a success is due to the controversial themes…show more content…
In this chapter the men on the ship capture a whale and fill barrels with its spermaceti, a waxy white oil produced by the whale (Melville 432; ch. 94). As the spermaceti cools, it begins to form fatty lumps, Ishmael then begins to squeeze out the lumps of sperm back into the fluid (Melville 432; ch. 94). Ishmael goes on to display the sexual themes in chapter 94 when he says: I found myself unwittingly squeezing my co-laborers’ hands in it, mistaking their hands for the gentle globules. Such an abounding, affectionate, friendly, loving feeling did this avocation beget; that at last I was continually squeezing their hands, and looking up into their eyes sentimentally ... Come; let us squeeze hands all round; nay, let us all squeeze ourselves into each other; let us squeeze ourselves universally into the very milk and sperm of kindness. (Melville 432) Melville explicitly describes the topic of mutual self-pleasure. Melville uses the whale as a symbol of man to openly discuss the topic of self-pleasure. The title of the next chapter (95) is “The Cassock” which turns out to be the foreskin of the whale. Surprisingly, the men use that excess skin to create robes for themselves. The odd scenes of the men using the whale’s foreskin and their hands on experience with the sperm, is a perfect example of how Melville continues to push beyond the norm in…show more content…
Homosexuality had a negative connotation during Melville’s life. This is possibly the reason he was not openly a homosexual. Nevertheless, he most likely found ways to fulfill his attraction. “Men like Melville, who were sexually attracted to men, found the opportunity to fulfill that attraction and developed new conceptions of the moral and emotional complexities such attraction entailed (Litz and Weigel 244). He possibly fulfilled his physical attraction as a whaler. Whalers are often on long voyages with only men, and on these ships, similar to prison life, there was a substantial threat of sexual assault (Litz and Weigel 244). However, once Melville left the whaling industry, he no longer had that outlet. This could be why when he met Hawthorne their relationship became extremely important to Melville. “It is likely that Melville and Hawthorne were sexually attracted to each other …” (Litz and Weigel 249). Herman Melville is the only person who knows his true sexual orientation, but whether or not he was, Moby-Dick continues its legacy as one of the greatest works in
Open Document