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Herman Melville: The Universal Themes And Timeless Messages

1312 words - 5 pages

Herman Melville: Universal Themes and Timeless Messages Herman Melville's writings have become an intricate part of American life. His novels and short stories are required reading for high school and college students. Moby Dick is recognized worldwide as one of the supreme achievements in American literature. Melville popularized the theme of man against a hostile environment, and dealt with many of the issues that still confront man""fear, isolation, and everyday survival. Unfortunately, Melville died thinking himself a failure as a writer. In the last years of his life, he worked as Inspector of Customs in New York, receiving a meager salary of four dollars a day to board incoming vessels and report any violations he found. He never could have imagined what a powerful influence his writings would have on future generations of readers and writers.Melville's financial situation shaped his early life. Born into wealth, his father mismanaged his money and failed financially. Melville, only thirteen when his father died, had to assume burdensome family debts. He tried many jobs, including banking, farming, clerking, and teaching. When he was seventeen, he decided to try to make his fortune at sea. Redburn is the story of Melville's first voyage, a voyage that brought intense physical ordeals, danger, brutality, and humiliation. This venture into the brutal life at sea left scars on him for life. He did, however, visit the exotic South Sea Islands, and he lived for a time with a Polynesian tribe, where he came to respect the harmony of their lives.Melville's adventures at sea produced Typee, which made him famous overnight. Omoo, a tale about his adventures in the South Sea Islands, made him even more famous.If he had continued writing such entertaining travel books, Melville probably could have enjoyed greater success and popularity. However, because of his profoundly disturbing experiences at sea, Melville decided he wanted to write a more serious book about what he had learned in life. Moby Dick took fourteen months to write, and Melville's reading audience found it to be very disappointing. They were used to Melville's uncomplicated travel stories. This frigid reception made Melville feel discouraged and disillusioned. He wrote one other novel, a number of short stories, and poetry. His work was virtually ignored by the public.In the 1920's, Melville's work was revived and won critical acclaim. After he was "rediscovered," his writings were recognized as strong, honest observations about life.The predominant theme in Melville's writing, man against a hostile environment, gave his works a timeless appeal. "Bartleby the Scrivener" illustrated what can happen when a man is removed from a familiar environment and cannot become the stereotype of the average worker in a new job. The story takes place on Wall Street, and is told by the lawyer who hired Bartleby to transcribe law copies. The narrator described Bartleby as ""¦pallidly neat,...

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