"Us Lone Wand'ring Whaling-Men": Cross-cutting Fantasies of Work and Nation in Late Eighteenth- and Nineteenth-Century American Whaling Narratives
My project takes up a variety of fictional and non-fictional texts about a kind of work which attracted the attention of American novelists Herman Melville, Harry Halyard, and Helen E. Brown; historian Obed Macy; and journalist J. Ross Browne, among others. In my Introduction, I argue that these whaling narratives helped to further develop and perpetuate an already existing fantasy of masculine physical labor which imagines the United States working class men to be ideal, heroic Americans. This fantasy was so compelling and palpable that, surprisingly enough, the New England whalemen could be persistently claimed as characteristically and emblematically American, even though they worked on hierarchically-stratified floating factories, were frequently denied their Constitutional rights by maritime law, and hardly ever spent any time on American soil.
In my second chapter, I scrutinize the emerging assumption of an ideological fantasy of masculine physical labor that was specifically American and interrogate how certain kinds of physical labor, farming and whaling among them, were cast as particularly American in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. Chapter 3 demonstrates that there was something about the work of whaling that resisted these kinds of nationalistic appropriations, and I present a close analysis of Crèvecoeur, Cooper, and Melvilles whaling narratives. My fourth chapter further explores this resistance, and I read Melvilles Moby-Dick alongside J. Ross Brownes Etchings of a Whaling Cruise, arguing that both Melville and Brownedespite their texts formal differencesshare an intellectual project of configuring certain aspects of the collective, physical labor of whaling as artistically generative. Chapter 5 addresses both reactionary and progressive depictions of whaling wives with regard to domesticity and nationality. My last chapter examines how some separatist-minded Nantucket Islanders demonstrated that federalism was contested not just in the antebellum South, but in other areas of the United States as well. Taken together, all of these chapters address different aspects of the complex and multifaceted identity of the American whalemen, but they also show how a particularly resilient ideological fantasy of masculine American labor develops and gains power, perpetuating itself across time.
Advisor:Jean Ferguson Carr; Kirk Savage; Susan Andrade; Nancy Glazener
School:University of Pittsburgh
School Location:USA - Pennsylvania
Source Type:Master's Thesis
Date of Publication:06/21/2006