Document Type

Unpublished Paper

Publication Date

Fall 2015


Melville’s texts continue to be relevant to a contemporary readership well over a century since original publication, as his words not only illuminate and examine nineteenth century experiences, but also present concepts and ideas that continue to be worthy of consideration by modern audiences. One such issue that is regularly addressed in Melville’s works is that of identity: of the individual, of society, and of the individual as he navigates between the fabrics of various social worlds. This paper examines Social Identity Theory and its components that both achieve identification of the individual and the aggregate in society and define boundaries between social groups. In conjunction with Social Identity Theory, this paper draws from Melville’s own background and identify parallels between his personal history and his published works. Using these elements, along with an examination of the role of setting, I analyze the protagonists of two of Melville’s texts – Typee: A Peep at Polynesian Life (1846) and Redburn (1849) – and assert that these characters and their circular journeys, which frequently stray from the social roles and identities ascribed to them, are reflections of Melville’s personal experiences and ideologies. Furthermore, I argue that the protagonists and the plots in which they function are vehicles of Melville’s social commentary for a nineteenth-century readership.


This project was created for a section of ENGL 4997: Capstone devoted to the life and work of Herman Melville.