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“Whole Oceans Away”

Melville and the Pacific

Literature & Literary Criticism

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Essays on Melville and the culture of the Pacific

“Like the young Melville, those who imagine Polynesia from the perspective of Europe or North America tend to envision a tropical garden set in a shining sea. But the Pacific experienced by a runaway American sailor in an earlier century presents a different picture, and the Pacifi c experienced by indigenous peoples of today a different one yet.”— from the Introduction

Herman Melville had a lifelong fascination with the Pacific and with the diverse island cultures that dotted this vast ocean. The essays in this collection articulate the intersection of Western and Pacific perspectives in Melville’s work, from his early writings based on ocean voyages and encounters in the Pacific to Western modes of thought in relation to race and national identity. These essays interrogate familiar themes of Western colonialism while introducing fresh insights, including Melville’s use of Pacific cartography, the art of tattooing, and his interest in evolutionary science.

Using a variety of methodologies and approaches—postcolonial theory, cultural studies, linguistics, performance theory—“Whole Oceans Away” offers a valuable body of criticism for students of nineteenth-century American literature and history, cultural studies, and Pacific Rim studies.


Jill Barnum was professor of literature and writing and Morse-Alumni Distinguished Teaching Professor at the University of Minnesota. She published Melville Sea Dictionary: A Glossed Concordance and Analysis of the Sea Language in the Nautical Novels of Herman Melville (1982) and Encyclopedia of American Literature of the Sea and Great Lakes (2001).

Wyn Kelley teaches in the literature department at MIT and is the author of Melville’s City: Literary and Urban Form in Nineteenth-Century New York (1996) and editor of A Companion to Herman Melville (2006).

Christopher Sten, professor of English at George Washington University, is the author of The Weaver-God, He Weaves (Kent State University Press, 1996) and editor of Savage Eye: Melville and the Visual Arts (Kent State University Press, 1991).