Escape from democracy : a study of sociopolitical themes in Melville's Mardi and Moby-Dick

A strong anti-democratic theme appears in both Mardi and Moby-Dick. The central character in each book assumes a natural and consciously self-affirmed elitism which sets him outside the boundaries of normal social role expectations. Taji and Ahab do not behave in ways calculated to preserve human society; rather they act to smash it. Each of them refuses to bend to what Milton R. Stern has called "the inescapable democracy of mutual mortality" in which men "must give their primary attention to the world they live in." Both books explore a social crisis, that crisis which occurs when a powerful leader declares his right to lead in the direction of his individual desire, no matter what the consequences to his followers. Parallels and contrasts between the two books are explored in relation to this anti-democratic theme, as well as the quest objects, Yillah and Moby Dick, and the human societies represented by the Mardian islands and the ships the Pequod meets. The hypothesis is that in Moby-Dick Melville solved the structural and thematic problems he encountered in Mardi. Evidence which demonstrates that Moby-Dick is Mardi resolved and made great is presented.