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The Representation Of The Racial Other In Herman Melville's Moby Dick.

6063 words - 24 pages

2de lic. Germaanse LetterkundeMoby Dick Course"A man can be honest in any sort of skin"The representation of the racial OtherIn Herman Melville's Moby DickYear 2006-2007Melville lived in a time of great political turmoil. American and European missionary work and military expansion, the near extinction of Native American tribes, and the issue of slavery were causing a lot of debate about racial identity, character, and human rights (Otter 2). To justify their treatment of these peoples and exculpate their own actions, the Americans in Melville's time that supported slavery called upon the superiority of the white Anglo-Saxon race over all other inferior races.This idea was propagated in politics, literature and popular culture, and defended by means of science and religion. Intellectuals believed that the history of mankind was one of advancement, moving in different speeds at different places and sometimes skipping certain peoples. The cause for this was unknown, and it was therefore assumed that certain races (especially the white race) were equipped for advancements while others were not (Otter 2). There was an explosion of studies - most of which can be linked "American school" of ethnology (Delbanco 49-50) - that tried to prove this in a pseudo-scientific way. Scientists went on an obsessive search for physical evidence of the separate and unequal capabilities of different races (Otter 2-3) in order to rank them hierarchically and articulate a national order. Their studies focused on the shape of the head (phrenology), size of the skull (craniometry), facial features (physiognomy) and skin colour. These differences among races in colour and shape where then associated with corresponding mental and moral differences. Based on these physical criteria, the human species was distributed among five races - American Indian, Caucasian, Mongolian, Ethiopian and Malay - and placed in a hierarchical order that went down from the Caucasian at the top, to the Ethiopians or Negroes at the bottom.This urge to stress the otherness and inferiority of other races is also visible in the American literary works of those days, most of which - implicitly or explicitly - dealt with American identity. According to Viola Sachs, the trait that distinguishes these texts from others is their style, how they use a colour language to "point to and conceal elements and features of the culture of the Others" (Sachs 6). This is what Edward Said calls Orientalism; the way the Orient (what is not Western) is constructed in Western thinking. In the construction of the Orient and colonialism the colonial Other is presented as another, a subordinate, someone who needs you. By presenting other cultures this way, Western writers aimed to justify colonial exploitation and slavery. The colonized Other was dehumanized to minimize his suffering; he was presented as an animal, a cannibal, a savage, a being without a soul. Because of his savage nature and his inferior intelligence the...

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