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.)