Places Discussed

(Critical Guide to Settings and Places in Literature)


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

*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...

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(Great Characters in Literature)

Davis, Merrell. Melville’s “Mardi”: A Chartless Voyage. New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 1952. The first book-length study of Mardi. Demonstrates Meville’s ambition through analysis of letters to publisher John Murray. Asserts that the novel is an important harbinger of Moby Dick but in itself a failure.

Moore, Maxine. That Lonely Game: Melville, “Mardi,” and the Almanac. Columbia: University of Missouri Press, 1975. Argues that Melville wrote Mardi as an elaborate riddle based upon the almanac and the recent discovery of planet Neptune, all to get back at British critics’ attacks on his first two books. Fascinating but farfetched.

Olson, Charles. Call Me Ishmael. San Francisco: City Lights Books, 1947. Poet Olson’s analysis of Moby Dick, central to understanding Melville’s compositional process. Contains several essays that relate Olson’s poetic theories to Melville’s practice.

Pullin, Faith, ed. New Perspectives on Melville. Kent, Ohio: Kent State University Press, 1978. Excellent collection of essays on Melville, including Richard Brodhead’s “Mardi: Creating the Creative,” a strong reply to Davis’ thesis.

Rogin, Michael Paul. Subversive Geneologies: The Politics and Art of Herman Melville. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1979. Incisive psychological and Marxist reading of Melville’s life and work, arguing that Melville was one of the leading thinkers of his age. Its reading of Melville’s family’s place in the historical context of the 1840’s is unparalleled.