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The War on WordsSlavery, Race, and Free Speech in American Literature$
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Michael T. Gilmore

Print publication date: 2010

Print ISBN-13: 9780226294131

Published to Chicago Scholarship Online: February 2013

DOI: 10.7208/chicago/9780226294155.001.0001

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Slit Throats in Melville

Slit Throats in Melville

(p.155) Slit Throats in Melville
The War on Words

Michael T. Gilmore

University of Chicago Press

The tension between pressure on free speech, a position Melville reluctantly endorsed, and passionate belief produced an array of responses in the novelist, from the self-expurgation of Typee through the linguistic defiance of Moby-Dick to the epidemic of silencing in “Benito Cereno” (1855) and the picture of a verbally evasive society of “No Trust” in The Confidence-Man. This chapter reviews these fictions and reveals Herman Melville's account of African bondage. Yet slavery and its corollary, the sign of the censor, stalk everything Melville wrote in this period; they form the self-conscious subtext of his work as well as the animating context for his genius. Typee is the novel that establishes the pattern for Melville's career: it announces the centrality of self-censorship to his work and points toward the convergence of his circumspection with the gathering storm over slavery.

Keywords:   free speech, Herman Melville, Typee, Moby-Dick, The Confidence-Man, slavery

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