Phrenological Symbolism as Homosexual Subnarrative in Moby Dick
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CitationFitzgerald, Thomas. 2019. Phrenological Symbolism as Homosexual Subnarrative in Moby Dick. Master's thesis, Harvard Extension School.
AbstractThis thesis identifies a symbolist homosexual subnarrative throughout the novel that is told through the language of phrenology, a mid-nineteenth century pseudo-science incorporating craniology and anatomy, that purported the shape and scale of human anatomic elements correlate directly to intellectual capacity and predisposed personality traits. Through textual analysis, historical context and a comparison of evolving criticism, I demonstrate that, throughout the novel, Melville alludes to phrenology with persistent references, through the perspective of his amateur phrenologist narrator Ishmael, to skulls and heads, skins, bones, bodies, in a coded manner that has spoken directly to homosexual readers in his time and for generations afterward. Moby Dick’s dedication to Hawthorne reveals that the novel contains a phrenologic approach to the banned subject of homosexuality, and concurrent use of phrenologic language in his poetry demonstrate a role of the pseudoscience in emergent nineteenth centiry homosexual identity. Moby Dick’s coded symbolic homosexual narrative is bound to the phrenologist concepts of predetermined behavior and racial hierarchy that have rightly caused the pseudoscience to recede into relative obscurity in history. As evolving social mores have made Melville’s homoerotic innuendo more readily available to today’s readers, his phrenologic symbolism becomes more obscure.
Citable link to this pagehttps://nrs.harvard.edu/URN-3:HUL.INSTREPOS:37365389