White-Jacket’s White Jacket, or Humanity In a Trans(e)
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: White-Jacket’s White Jacket, or Humanity In a Trans(e)
: Paweł Jędrzejko
Abstract : White-Jacket’s White Jacket, or Humanity In a Trans(e)
White-Jacket s "conventional" reception as the mouthpiece for Herman Melville's criticism of the inhumane laws in the American Navy frequently overshadows the complexity of this character. In fact, neither the protagonist, nor the book itself, lend themselves to being described in clear-cut terms. With the exception of few scholars - such as William Hamilton, who approaches White-Jacket in spiritual terms of post-Christian theology - critics addressing Melville's fifth book usually read it either as a political novel, as does Christopher Sten, or even Lawrance Thompson), author of the famous Melville s Quarrel with God, who interprets it as a sociopolitical treatise against the abhorred punishment of flogging, a treatise informed with "allegorical connotations, [which] illuminate [Melville's] own personal and private religious reaction against
his Calvinistic heritage." Other scholars, like Samuel Otter, who reads White-Jacket as "a book about the extension of black slavery to the decks of the United States naval frigates and to the back of white sailors,"s offer numerous variations of the sociopolitical reading, encompassing a wide range of aspects of the Melvillean vision of America. And yet, the political and religious resonances of White Jacket seem to invite scholars to use it as an optical filter of sorts, through which the cultural history of the United States can be studied, or through which Melville's own participation in it can be analyzed. Irrespective of the unquestionable value of studies such as those mentioned, it is frequently the case that reading through the novel bears the traits of skipping over the novel. The central questions dominating studies on White-Jacket usually concern the reality it reflects, the impact upon the American law it came close to exerting, or Melville's political and social views; it is rather seldom that an analysis should concentrate upon the novel's underlying philosophy, upon the metaphysical conditioning of its protagonists, or their transformations. This is the goal of the present chapter.
: Herman Melville, American Renaissance, identity, US Navy, self, ego, objectification, White-Jacket, nausea, existential angst, human condition
||Department of American and Canadian Studies of the Institute of English Cultures and Literatures, University of Silesia in Katowice, Poland|
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