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Open Access Thesis
Master of Arts (M.A.)
Year Degree Awarded
Month Degree Awarded
This thesis explores the role of Euromerican maritime tattoos in Herman Melville’s early sea fiction. Through layers of historic and scholarly obfuscation, Euromerican maritime tattoos have been delimited to a marginal role in the cosmopolitan shipboard culture of 19th-century Pacific whaling and trade networks. This project extracts and contextualizes that cultural practice as formative in the creation of sailors’ hybrid embodied identities. With this intervention in mind, Euromerican maritime tattooing emerges as a small but important feature in Melville’s first six books. Probing issues such as race, class, slavery, and colonialism, this project deploys an intimate reading practice, which seeks to engage Melville from within the text. Tattoos serve as a symbol by which he grapples with larger social formations. Through prolonged engagement with marked bodies, Melville unfurls a cast of characters who demonstrate how identity is shaped by the various domineering axes of modernization. He also reveals how a series of interconnected and somewhat autobiographical first-person narrators strive to find embodied alternatives to the violent forms of exploitation alive in the colonial Pacific and interconnected 19th-century global shipping networks. Ultimately, this project seeks to think, feel, and read alongside Melville to gain insight into how he made sense of the world. Through the lens of tattoos in his early sea fiction, Melville reveals the power of interrelation, the human potential to defy subjugation, and charts a path toward new social embodiments. Disclaimer: The views expressed in this thesis are those of the author and do not reflect the official policy or position of the United States Air Force, United States Space Force, Department of Defense, or the U.S. Government.
Swenson, Connell D., "Marked at Sea: Race, Class, and Tattoo Culture in Melville's Early Sea Fiction" (2022). Masters Theses. 1169.