Places Discussed

(Critical Guide to Settings and Places in Literature)


Highlander. Ship on which the young sailor Wellingborough Redburn travels between Liverpool and New York City; based on the actual ship, the St. Lawrence, in which Melville made a similar trip in 1839. As with his depiction of Liverpool, Melville’s description of the ship serves different purposes at different times. At first the ship is simply a dose of reality counteracting Redburn’s fantasies. Before actually going to sea, Redburn has an idealized notion of sailor life. Once aboard ship, he discovers the hardships of being a sailor but also finds things to enjoy, such as the thrill of the ship plunging through the waves and the mastery he feels in fixing the sails. Like life ashore, life aboard the ship is a mixture of good and bad.

On Redburn’s return voyage, Melville switches the focus to emphasize the horrible conditions of the Irish emigrants in the ship’s unsanitary steerage quarters, which contrast markedly with the much better conditions of the rich cabin passengers, who seem selfishly intent on keeping the poor away by means of ropes rather than providing them with any assistance.


*Liverpool. Major seaport of western England. Redburn, who likes to indulge in fantasy, tries to imagine what Liverpool will be like before he gets there, but instead of the marvels he expects, all he finds are disappointingly dingy warehouses—a demonstration of how a young boy’s idealized fantasies about the world may have nothing to do with reality. As Redburn explores Liverpool using an old guidebook, Melville introduces a second, related theme: that life does not stand still. Redburn expects Liverpool to look as it does in the guidebook, but his father’s book is fifty...

(The entire section is 725 words.)


(Great Characters in Literature)

Branch, Watson G., ed. Melville: The Critical Heritage. London: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1974. Contemporary reviews of Redburn in British and American periodicals. Interesting for comparison with later Melville scholarship. The novel was widely praised at its publication, but praised for its qualities as an adventure story rather than as serious fiction.

Bredahl, Carl A., Jr. Melville’s Angles of Vision. Gainesville: University of Florida Press, 1972. Emphasizes Melville’s concern with characters in their environment. Discusses Redburn as first-person narrator adjusting to the psychological implications of life at sea.

Hillway, Tyrus. Herman Melville. Boston: Twayne, 1963. Excellent analysis of Melville’s characterization, particularly in the degree to which it improved since the publication of his earlier novels. Particular attention given in this regard to the tragic contradictions in the character of Harry Bolton.

Kirby, David. Herman Melville. New York: Continuum, 1993. Treats the relationship between Melville’s creative imagination and his life. Offers an engaging contrast between the fanciful Mardi and Redburn, which reveals Melville’s personal experience.

Rosenberry, Edward H. Melville. London: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1979. Places particular emphasis on Redburn as an initiation novel in which personal experience is paramount in the development of the character of the mature adult. Rosenberry makes an interesting distinction between lust for life and a talent for living in Redburn.