This paper analyzes the types of solitude of Pip and Ishmael in Herman Melville's Moby-Dick as well as Bartleby in“Bartleby, The Scrivener: A Story of Wall Street.” Solitude, or the state of being solitary or separated from the community, has been regarded as the prerequisite for religious meditation since the ancient times. However, starting at least from the mid-seventeenth century, the connection between solitude and religious practice was gradually attacked with the rise of individualism and its emphasis on the learning and self-knowledge. Social changes caused by the Industrial Revolution and capitalism in Europe accelerated the isolation of individuals from the community.
Although it was established by immigrants from many countries around the world, the United States in the mid-nineteenth century developed a new state different from European countries in terms of system, custom and tradition. Solitude also took a different form in the US, because pioneers of the newly founded country voluntarily chose a different way of life confronting solitude at the frontier. As democracy and capitalism took root in the American society, the individualism founded on the claims of individual rights prevailed over the pursuit of the public good. Melville is a representative writer of the American Renaissance, along with Emerson, Hawthorne, Poe, Thoreau, and Walt Whitman.
I define solitude as containing two different dimensions: one is the state of being ‘lonely’ as the result of social isolation, while the other is the state of being ‘alone’ as the essential human condition. Melville’s characters to be discussed in the dissertation are first of all ‘lonely’ figures, who suffer from socially disadvantaged situation. However, their reactions to the absolute human condition of ‘aloneness’are different.
First, Melville shows the most condensed encounter with solitude through the solitude of Pip in Moby-Dick published in 1851. Pip as a black boy, situated at the bottom of the social hierarchy of the Pequod structured by the physical power and race. While chasing a whale on a boat, Pip falls into the water and experiences another world. When he is desperately waiting for the rescue from his colleagues, he is left drifting helpless. His soul achieves infinite wisdom like God’s. Pip’s solitude is initially caused by the social isolation from his colleagues and then worsened by his insanity, which hinders him from communicating with the others.
Second, Bartleby in “Bartleby, The Scrivener: A Story of Wall Street” published in 1853, is a lonely figure who experiences a rapidly changing capitalistic society. Later, in an attempt to defend himself, he chooses solitude and death against the inequalities created by capitalism and discrimination in the community. His resistant solitude somehow seems to influence the lawyer-narrator, who delivers the story of Bartleby, however, we cannot expect any substantial change in the lawyer’s attitude.
Finally, Ishmael of Moby-Dick rides on the whaleship because he is socially and economically estranged from the community life on land. As he pursues the white whale, Moby-Dick in the ocean, he learns of the importance of comradeship with Quequeg and other fellow sailors and overcomes his loneliness. Moreover, becoming the only survivor of the Pequod, Ishmael is given a chance to start life anew on land. This time, he is able to confront his solitude―this time both ‘loneliness’ and ‘aloneness’―with more elevated consciousness and wisdom he achieved during the voyage.
In conclusion, I find the issues of solitude in the three characters are closely related with the literature and thoughts of the mid-nineteenth century America, for instance Emerson or Thoreau's Walden(1854). However, Melville, who was experiencing financial troubles during the economic depression, was well aware of the difficulties of the socially disadvantaged people like Pip, Ishmael, and Bartleby, and described their desperate social isolation. The theme of solitude is not limited to the period Melville lived but extended further into the 21st century, so I hope this dissertation can be of help to look into the solitude and isolation which people in the contemporary society experience.