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Herman Melville (1819-1891)






Herman Melville was an American poet, novelist and short story writer. He was born on august of 1819 in New York to Allan Melvill and Maria Gansevoort. He was the third kid of the eight children of the oversea merchant. The family was a recognized one in the neighborhood of Boston and his brother Thomson became the governor of Sailors Snug Harbor, an aspect that shows the upper cadre of the family. His father Allan was an established commission merchant and an importer of accessories from France. His mother hailed from a socially prominent Dutch family. Herman spent his childhood years in New York City until his father’s death at age of 11. During his final years, his father Allan was experiencing financial and mental problems. After the death, the family moved to Albany. At Albany, his family was stricken by financial problems and he was forced to forgo schooling so that he could provide labour at their fur business. He later service in public service before moving on to writing. Initially, he experienced a successful spell before the public started ignoring his work. At his death, Melville was a poor resident of Albany an aspect that made his death go unnoticed except in his locality. He was painted as a failure in life (Miller, 12).

Thesis statement: Melville is not a minor figure in American literature.

Upon his death, Herman Melville was not a famous individual. His death was reported by a local newspaper, which painted his personality as a ‘long forgotten author’. However, this is not true, his work laid foundation for modern literature in the United States.  More so, his novel Moby Dick has been a hit novel from the classic world to present day education. In most schools, it is an important part of curriculum, where student read it and analyze it among other aspects. However, it was not until after his death that his work came to being scrutinized. Most of his work were reprinted in later years and came to be an important cog of literature. Born to a merchant, Herman made his way up to peak of recognition. However, most of the praise came long after he had died. He came from a large family that was stricken with financial problems. He had raised his family through acting as a commission merchant on imported goods. These goods included silk clothes….however, in 1830; he changed his occupation and ventured into fur business in New York. Within two years, the family was declared bankrupt and his father died because of his poor mental health worsened by financial problem. At this point, Melville was just 11 years old. Together with his other seven siblings, they were forced to abandon schooling and tend to family cap and fur business. After this, Melville worked at other different capacities from a teacher at a local school, a farmworker at his uncle’s land and a clerk at a local bank. Despite these struggles, Melville continued conducting studies, but on his own and part time levels. His areas of interest included history, mythology and anthropology (Miller, 54). He became a fun of Shakespeare’s work especially poetic devices he used to capture his audience. At his locality, he grew up hearing the story of a ship, Essex, which was attacked by a whale and sank, despite the story happening when he was only one; it became an important aspect in his literature work. His writings are full of whales attack and audacity of whalers. Upon reaching 20, he joined voyagers across Atlantic, a job he took with several groups until 1844.

When he returned home in the month of October, he was determined to put his adventure down as a novel. At first, he used accounts he had witnessed before moving on to include stories he had heard with other people while at sea. His work captured his experiences as a whaler and a seaman. Using comprehensive and accurate sea life description, Melville communicates the terror and fear of whale hunt. In fact, the accounts of sea life came to be the idea behind his greatest classic novel Moby Dick that is a tribute to whaling sector. However, not all went well as Melville had expected. When he presented manuscript of his first novel, Typee to the publishers in the U.S, it was rejected. The scrip was accepted in UK was his brother was working for American legation. When it was released in 1846, Typee received positive reviews. Its ethnographic focus on relationship between a New Englander and foreign cultures was point that promoted the book in U.K. former crewmates helped the book sell more when they said the account of the novel were true. The status of true-story also helped the novel sell 6,000 copies in United the midst of this success; he got married to Elizabeth Shaw, the daughter to the chief justice of Massachusetts. The chief justice, Lemuel Shaw came to chip in the life of the couple in 1850s when they were undergoing financial problems. He moved back to New York City with his newly wedded bride and continued with his writing. Encouraged by success of Typee, Melville published Omoo in 1847, Mardi and a voyage tither in 1849, White-Jacket and Redburn in 1850. At this rate of production, Melville established himself as an author with most of his work receiving credits (Parker, 76).

In the meantime, Melville continued his production but focused on short stories such as whale. These stories came to be part of his ever-greatest work Moly Dick in 1851. However, the book did not do well as Melville expected. The Americans focus on voyages was changing with the looming industrialization era. This made his book receive more criticism than credits and sold only 3,000 copies. After this frustration, Melville was stricken by financial problems for the remaining part of his life. In the following year, Melville release Pierre, a romantic novel based on his childhood but it never touched hearts of many despite using a huge chunk of his saving. The frustration forced him to try his luck in short stories, poems and short novels in the years that followed. However, the public continued ignoring his work, a situation that made Melville become lost in depression. His literary fame continued to sink further and further until he died. He continued writing short stories and at the same time working as a dockworker. More problems continued haunting his life when his son committed suicide in 1867. In 1991, Melville passed away leaving a long list of literary work that received huge recognition after his death (Parker 137).


Despite misfortunes that strike his life at later stage of his career, Melville is not a failure. He did exceptional pieces of literature that has been accepted as foundation of modern literature. His novel Moly Dick has been incorporated in many literary aspects. In 1900s, the novel was taught worldwide because of Shakespearean rhetoric, dramatic staging and philosophical speculation it contains, organized in a fantastic plot. The novel is also part of the current reading list in most high schools. More so, the book has been incorporated into film industry such as the 1956 film by John Houston. Besides adventures in the sea life, Melville incorporated other areas of life such as religion versus science, emerging technology and human limitation, and truth versus myths. The world can also learn from immoral aspects recorded at the rise of whaling industry and forge battle against the current forms. Indeed, Melville life and literary work was an influential one and his literary pieces are not dying out. They will continue to be receive huge following in field of literature.


Works cited

Miller, Edwin Haviland. Melville. 1st ed. New York: G. Braziller, 1975. Print.

Parker, Hershel. The Recognition Of Herman Melville. 1st ed. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1967. Print.

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