Date of Award

Spring 1-1-2018

Document Type


Degree Name

Master of Arts (MA)

First Advisor

Martin Bickman

Second Advisor

Mary Klages

Third Advisor

Maria Windell


This thesis explores Herman Melville's struggling relationship between belief and unbelief in Moby-Dick, “Benito Cereno” and Clarel. Melville’s travel to the Marquesas gave him a sense of cultural relativity which prompted questions about his faith that continually remerged even as he found answers. In spite of overwhelming skepticism, Melville was unwilling to fully relinquish his faith because belief also offered comfort. Being trapped in a space where he could not fully believe but was equally unable to detach himself from faith, Melville discovered Ralph Waldo Emerson’s concept of double consciousness which served as a theoretical framework for his feelings of internal liminality. Melville drew on Emerson’s ideas to propose a wrestling form of belief. The Melvillean believer discovers questions which produce doubt and then seeks answers. These answered questions produce a brief sense of peace before further questions assert themselves and the struggling believer must begin his journey once again. In Moby-Dick, Melville acknowledges the circles that make up life and faith as well as the way that it is still possible to progress in belief even when the individual is trapped in a circular pattern. Melville continues these ideas in “Benito Cereno” where he attempts to bring readers into a lived experience of his own struggle with faith and doubt so that they can empathize with his struggle and perhaps adopt a similarly courageous form of faith. Finally, in Clarel, Melville shows the equal pull of both belief and unbelief, the way that questions will continue to emerge after others are answered. Through these works, Melville ultimately resolves that he will continue both to question and to believe eternally.