American Shudders: Race, Representation, and Sodomy in Redburn

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Newer critical treatments of Redburn argue that its significance lies in its critique of antebellum slavery, most saliently in chapter 31, in which Wellingborough Redburn, the first-person narrator, offers an ekphrastic depiction of the Nelson Monument in Liverpool, England. This monument contains an especially significant detail: the four naked, chained male figures at the base of the pedestal. Redburn tells us that he can never look at their “swarthy limbs and manacles, without being involuntarily reminded of four African slaves in the market-place.” The abjection of the figures is significant for understanding not only issues of race and slavery but also the queer aspects of Redburn: the vulnerability of younger males in the grip of more powerful, older males. This essay examines the connections between Melville’s striking thematization of race and his representation of gender and same-sex sexuality. Race discourse here functions as a coded means of expressing and negotiating the difficulties of same-sex desire, informed by Melville’s awareness of the sodomitical shipboard practices that he, throughout his work, suggested with alternate slyness and horror.


© Leviathan 2014, Johns Hopkins University Press

Greven, David (2014). American shudders: Race, representation, and sodomy in Redburn. Leviathan, 16(2), 1-22.