Degree

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Department

English

Document Type

Dissertation

Abstract

“Pacific Crosswinds” shows how antebellum Pacific maritime fiction traces the rise of commercial imperialism and exposes the hollow concept of nationality. This project builds wide-ranging case studies around the works of Edgar Allan Poe, James Fenimore Cooper, and Herman Melville. Particularly focusing on representations of contact zones, my readings view the transpacific as the proper context for analyzing these American fictions, and they attend to the indigenous communities and histories swept into the plots. In “MS. Found in a Bottle” (1833) and The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym (1838), I suggest that Poe sketches a new imperial world order defined by tribal, racial identities. In Pym, published just before the launch of the US Exploring Expedition to the Pacific and South Seas, Poe appropriates antebellum representations of Polynesia and Uneapan mythology to build an unrecognizable Pacific world in which US territorial possession or commercial domination is unthinkable. Cooper, meanwhile, tests the moral principles of his American sailors on their transpacific trade circuits in Afloat and Ashore (1844) and The Crater (1847). Afloat and Ashore illustrates how the defense of commerce and free trade justifies otherwise unconscionable violence. The Crater reveals its protagonist to be trapped in a cyclical history that finds the foundational mistakes of the Atlantic world reoccurring in the Pacific. Finally, Melville’s early semi-autobiographical novels Typee (1846) and Omoo (1847) consider how “civilization” has already irrevocably transformed Polynesia. The readings balance Melville’s ostensibly anti-imperial reflections with his hegemonic perspectives of “primitive” Taipis and “semi-savage” Tahitians and Hawaiians. And yet, drawing connections between disempowered working-class sailors and indigenous communities, the novels illuminate the systems of exploitation part and parcel to the capitalist world.

Committee Chair

Kennedy, J. Gerald

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