Mardi. Fictional archipelago located in the west-central Pacific Ocean. Melville’s narrator Taji places the islands about sixty degrees west of the Galápagos Islands and to the north of the Ellice, Marshall, and Kingsmill Islands of what is now Kiribati. Taji happens upon the previously undiscovered islands after jumping ship from a whaler and experiencing a series of increasingly improbable high seas adventures. Eventually, he lands on an island ruled by Media, a philosopher-king who represents Herman Melville’s ideal platonic ruler. A search for the abducted maiden Yillah takes Taji and Media throughout the islands, on which they observe the variety of “Mardian” customs and discourse at length upon the philosophic, aesthetic, and moral implications of what they see. Mardi serves as a microcosm of world cultures and a convenient mechanism for Melville to sally forth on ideas ranging from such political questions as New World slavery to such philosophic issues as free will versus determinism. By the end of the novel, with a deconstructive stroke, Melville identifies the seemingly endless fictional Mardi islands with his own vast, unfolding fictional text Mardi.
*Pacific Ocean. Despite its allegorical structure, the novel is often realistic in tone. Melville cannot refrain from incorporating highly detailed descriptions of South Seas flora, fauna, and customs into his otherwise...
(The entire section is 597 words.)