Whipscars and Tattoos: The Last of the Mohicans, Moby-Dick, and the Maori

Whipscars and Tattoos: The Last of the Mohicans, Moby-Dick, and the Maori

by Geoffrey Sanborn
     
 

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In this original study, Geoffrey Sanborn presents a fresh interpretation of the villanous Magua in James Fenimore Cooper's The Last of the Mohicans (1826) and of the dignified harpooner Queequeg in Herman Melville's Moby-Dick (1851). Through careful historical research, Sanborn has determined that both authors relied heavily on contemporary accounts of the

Overview

In this original study, Geoffrey Sanborn presents a fresh interpretation of the villanous Magua in James Fenimore Cooper's The Last of the Mohicans (1826) and of the dignified harpooner Queequeg in Herman Melville's Moby-Dick (1851). Through careful historical research, Sanborn has determined that both authors relied heavily on contemporary accounts of the indigenous natives of New Zealand, the Maori, to develop their iconic characters. Cooper drew heavily on the account of Te Aara in John Liddiard Nicholas's Narrative of a Voyage to New Zealand (1817) while Melville studied the personal history of Te Pehi Kupe in George Lillie Craik's The New Zealanders (1830) to flesh out his characterization of Queequeg. A close reading of the historical evidence and the source material supports this compelling line of argumentation.
At the same time, this isn't a simple source study nor an act of explanatory historical recovery. The conception of the Maori is sophisticated and paradoxical, a portrait of violent but nonetheless idealized masculinity in which dignity depends on the existence of fiercely defiant pride. This lens allows Sanborn to present a radically different view of these fictional characters as well as underscoring the imaginative projection that went into reporting on the Maori themselves. Magua is no longer a stereotypical "bad Indian" or "ignoble savage," but rather a non-white "gentleman," an argument that supports Sanborn's contention that throughout his career Cooper prioritizes status equivalence over racial difference. Queequeg is similarly re-imagined, a move that allows Sanborn to explicate scenes in Moby-Dick that are often dodged by other critics because they do not fit with the standard interpretations of the character. The study as a whole provides a vivid example of the fascinating interplay between fiction and non-fiction in the nineteenth century.

Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"This lucid book is critically and historically illuminating, and immensely pleasurable. Sanborn brings his careful historical, biographical, ethnographical study of the nineteenth-century Maori, who by the 1830s were being described as 'the most impressive people that Europeans had ever encountered' to his dense familiarity with the works of James Fenimore Cooper and Herman Melville. . . . Sketching Sanborn's intriguing claims does not begin to capture the charm of his project, which is so readable, even captivating, such a startling and rewarding engagement with both men and literature." —Journal of American Studies

"Who would have thought that the lives of two Maori from New Zealand would resonate so powerfully in two of the most celebrated masterpieces of American literature? Sanborn, with his extraordinary eye for the telling detail, has written an illuminating and compellingly original study of the transnational cross-cultural frontier." —Alex Calder, The Writing of New Zealand

"Geoffrey Sanborn's Whipscars and Tattoos illuminates everything it touches in new and startling ways, from its harrowingly memorable portrait of the Maori to its brilliantly reorienting readings of two of America's most canonical novelists, and in doing so, provides an exhilarating example of what American Studies can do, and be." —Jim Shepard, author of Like You'd Understand, Anyway

"Fascinating...Specialists will appreciate Sanborn's detailed notes, and less experienced readers will have no difficulty following his clear prose. Highly recommended." —Choice

"Adds substantially to our knowledge about Melville's possible reading and sources." —Resources for American Literary Study

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780199985760
Publisher:
Oxford University Press, USA
Publication date:
04/01/2013
Edition description:
Reprint
Pages:
208
Product dimensions:
5.40(w) x 8.40(h) x 0.60(d)

Meet the Author

Geoffrey Sanborn is Professor of English at Amherst College. He is the author of Sign of the Cannibal: Melville and the Making of a Postcolonial Reader and the coeditor, with Samuel Otter, of Melville and Aesthetics.

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