Date of Award


Document Type

Honors Thesis (Colby Access Only)


Colby College. English Dept.


David B. Suchoff

Second Advisor

Katherine Stubbs


The life and writing of Herman Melville (1819-1891) must be understood as reflecting the questions of social stratification and hierarchical dominance that served as focal points of political conversation during his time. In addition to the turmoil and issues of race and class raised by the Civil War, this was also an era in which Melville and his contemporaries, such as Karl Marx (1818-1883), decried the dehumanizing properties of capitalism and consumerism. Melville’s works, therefore, are full of allusions to and commentary on these issues. In this essay, I will explore social inequality in texts by Herman Melville. I will examine class position and race as categories of inequality. These categories of inequity are associated with divisions of labor, including manual wage labor and slave labor. I will look at how inequality and power are registered in Melville’s texts, particularly how he depicts as arbitrary the categorical classification of traits associated with class position and race. I believe that Melville’s presentations of the arbitrary nature of these categories shape his texts into powerful social and political commentaries.


race, identity, Raymond Williams, Typee, consumption