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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

Chapter:
(p.155) Slit Throats in Melville
Source:
The War on Words
Author(s):

Michael T. Gilmore

Publisher:
University of Chicago Press
DOI:10.7208/chicago/9780226294155.003.0009

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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