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Title page for ETD etd-07132012-153815

Type of Document Master's Thesis
Author Barter, Faith Elizabeth
URN etd-07132012-153815
Title Following the line: Melville’s ethics for a new body of law
Degree Master of Arts
Department English
Advisory Committee
Advisor Name Title
Colin Dayan Committee Chair
Dana D. Nelson Committee Member
  • melville
  • law
  • moby dick
  • precedent
  • ethics
Date of Defense 2012-06-01
Availability unrestricted
Throughout Moby-Dick, Herman Melville describes successive pairs of animals—man and man, man and whale, whale and whale—in which the two animals maintain a connection via a physical line, whether it be harpoon line, tow line, or umbilical cord. By presenting these pairs, Melville underlines the relative positions of power or weakness in the various pairings, as well as the ambiguous tendency of the line to unify its pairs even while it cleaves them. This paper argues that Melville constructs a precedential framework in which he uses the physical connections between pairs of animals to trouble the boundaries of rights and law, making visible lines stand in for the un-seeable threads connecting one animal to another. In so doing, Melville presents the instances of the line as cumulative and suggestive of a new ethics of creaturely interdependence. I argue further that Melville deploys this precedential framework in order to caution darkly about the looming specters of colonialism, imperialism, and legal slavery in the nineteenth-century Americas.

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