Melville's White Whale: Pragmatism's Role in Moby Dick
Degree awarded: M.A. Literature. American University
Many scholars have broached the subject of Melville's relation to pragmatism, but in most cases, they have merely grazed it. This thesis unpacks this complex relationship in detail. I begin by giving a basic overview of pragmatism, including its history and its methodology. Next, I show how Melville was well read in Emerson, who is also considered a proto-pragmatist. And then, through a close analysis of Moby Dick, I show how Melville illuminates the main tenets of this philosophy before it was even created. Through the characters of Ishmael and Ahab, Melville provides the archetypes for empiricism and absolutism, and yet he gives each character pragmatic values and vices. Ultimately, I also show how Melville grapples with pragmatism's most frustrating qualities, which brings his own philosophical beliefs to light, and shows how Melville leaves his unanswered relation to truth to the reader to decide.