7#r(r .Ȝ $4x *( ( James Bellermann

English 341

May 8, 1997

Response to Eighteenth Century Religious Change

in Uncle Tom's Cabin and Moby Dick

The central religious themes of Uncle Tom's Cabin and Moby Dick reflect the turbulent and changing religious climate of their time. In their use of themes from both traditional Calvinism and modern reform, the syncretic efforts of both of these texts offers a response to the uncertainty and change of the period. However, their uses of these themes are different; while Stowe used a precise focus on a Christian polemic against slavery, Melville intentionally de-centralized his text in a way that asks the reader to look beyond the medium of expression to the truth which lays behind it, but cannot be contained in it.

In this paper, I will investigate the shift in religious climate as it led from orthodox Calvinism up to the mid eighteenth century and the response to it in Uncle Tom's Cabin and Moby Dick. By exploring the dynamism of the religious climate in this period, it is evident that both Stowe's and Melville's masterworks were clearly involved in this change. As a necessity of the subject matter, it is important to keep in mind before turning to either the history or the works which reflect it, that the discussion here will be of general movements of reform and change. The inherent dynamism of religious institutions and ideas requires that the boundaries by which one defines them remain fluid. While this essay will refer to periods such as The Second Great Awakening or traditions such as Calvinism or Unitarianism, it is important to remember that all of these terms must be used advisedly. While no doubt there are specific polemics involved in how these changes occurred, the sharp delineation and definition which some authors attempt is not a useful method. Rather, it is most helpful to address the religious aspect of both Melville and Stowe's works as part of a movement away from earlier Calvinist ideas into a new climate which could address the circumstances of their day. Neither one of them can be precisely placed in any of the religious categories of the period; Calvinism (both orthodox and reformed), Unitarianism, Transcendentalism, and liberal "Christocentric humanism" all exerted definite influences on both works, but both works similarly resist direct placement not only because of the syncretic nature of their programs, but the fluidity of these very traditions. Therefore, while some hesitancy is a necessary hazard of such a investigation, it nevertheless preserves a respect for the complexity of the religious history involved.

With this much said precautionarily, it is nevertheless possible to place both of these works in the climate of questioning, re-definition, and uncertainty which occurred in the American political and social scenes as part of this religious shift. The first important factor in this shift was the Second Great Awakening; while William McLoughlin dates its conclusion at 1830, it had an important influence on both of these works which were composed between 1850 and 1852. This movement established a break from the Calvinism of Jonathan Edwards through both in popular form of revivals and its connection to the more elite movement of Unitarianism, and thus set a precedent for later religious reform.

The concept of American nationhood was challenged in the early eighteenth century on several fronts. As McLoughlin points out, as the revolutionary fervor which had defined America through the War of 1812 declined, the nation was not able to define itself in such clear opposition to English political domination. Internal rifts developed in the nation on geographic lines between north and south, political lines between the Jeffersonian and Hamiltonian factions, and economic boundaries between rural populism and a mercantile economy favoring urban centers. As America sought for a new consensus to address these factors by necessity it moved away from its earlier identity associated with these growing rifts.

A major result of this shift occurred in the religious sphere. America's identity had been closely linked to Calvinism, particularly as it had grown out of the Puritan climate that which had formed the country. As this concept of nationhood came to be challenged by the forces described above, so was the religious identity associated with it. Further, some of the specific doctrines of Calvinism were threatened by the new mood of the country. The doctrines of man's innate depravity expressed in Edward's "Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God" did not mesh with what Perry Miller identifies as a "Romantic nationalism,"[1] an attempt to identify America with an idea of chosenness, self-worth, and independence. Other ideas out of the libertarian context contributed further to the ideological shift from Calvinism; such ideas as the rights and innate goodness of the individual, the accessibility of the Divine through reason, and the positive use of science, rather than of miracles, in explaining the divine will characterized this shift. The rise of the concept of self in this period is particularly important. Jonathan Edwards had depicted "natural man" or man in the state before salvation, as a "loathsome insect" being held above a fiery pit by God.[2] While most religious writing continued to place salvation as a central theme, the human self came to be depicted in a positive light, as the gateway to, rather than the barrier from, freedom. As Nathaniel Taylor, one of the most important reformers of the period stated, "Let a man look into his own breast, and he cannot but perceive inward freedom - inward freedom - for if freedom be not in the mind it is nowhere. And liberty of the mind implies self-determination."[3] This concept was a focal expression of many of the new ideas that characterized this reform. First, the focus on freedom was connected to a new appraisal of the divine will as benevolent and life-giving, in distinction to the wrathful character of Edward's depiction of God. Also, the validation of self gave increasing importance to personal experience, through which one could confront God directly and without complete reliance on doctrine and institution. Finally, through the self-determination described by Taylor, man could make a positive contribution to his own salvation, a focus very different from Edward's view of man's nature, that it would "plunge us into that world of misery, that lake of burning brimstone...."[4] The effort by Taylor was intentionally polemical against these earlier doctrines, an attitude shown even more strongly in Channing's "Moral Argument Against Calvinism." These attitudes attest to the intentional distance affected by this reform from the earlier religious climate.

These new movements appeared in various places throughout the American religious and cultural landscape in the early and mid eighteenth century. One major movement was the wide-spread appearance of "camp-meetings." These occasions focused on an oratory exposition of scripture or God's will which affected sometimes ecstatic conversion experiences in the audience. In other areas, the loss of earlier consensus and unity resulted in a stricter denominalizationism in which congregations sought separate answers for this common set of problems. A further challenge was the universalization of salvation that was posited by some new theological movements. This was ideologically challenging to the Calvinist doctrine as it was perceived to be a message which worshipped "a God who had predestined the greater part of the human race to eternal damnation by a decree promulgated before the foundation of the earth."[5] Thus, alternative avenues to God were validated as they distinguished themselves from this earlier exclusive doctrine. This was particularly true in the rise of Unitarianism, which relied heavily on personal experience, individual will, and a more inclusive interpretation of scripture as part of its reaction against Calvinism.

Particularly as a movement made up by elite and educated participants, the rise of Unitarianism is connected to a changing conception of literature and scripture in the early eighteenth century. Particularly as it incorporated historical and scientific perspectives on scripture, the Unitarians de-absolutized scripture from its sacred role. Concurrent with this was the rise of literature, not only as a means of explaining scripture, but as sacred itself. As Lawrence Buell points out, "the erosion of the Bible's privileged status acted as a literary stimulus insofar as it prompted creative writers to think of secular literature as a legitimate, even rival means of conveying spiritual experience."[6] Again, the connection to the new concept of self is important; by making literature equal to scripture, personal experience became the validation of that scripture. There is obviously a wide range of the application of this concept. Emerson and Thoreau stood on the far end of the spectrum, describing the Bible as equal to any other "inspired" work (Buell argues that Thoreau establishes Walden itself a new scripture[7]), while Lyman Beecher maintained the supremacy of the Bible, but substantially developed exposition, elaboration, and interpretation as tools for preaching. This concept would play an essential role in how both Stowe and Melville formulated and validated their own texts.

The radical shift that these changes showed caused a widespread uncertainty throughout American culture. Because new programs offered by the Unitarians, Transcendentalists, evangelistic preachers, and reformed Calvinists were not uniform and often resulted in sharp discord, this climate was exacerbated. Added to this religious and ideological uncertainty was a growing political turbulence as the eighteenth century progressed. Particularly the North-South split, including the debate over slavery and state versus national authority, contributed to a growing sense of unrest. The response to these and other problems further demonstrates the shift in religious ideas in the previous half-century. Spearheaded by Taylor's "New Light" theology, moral and social reform relied on a positive appraisal of man's will and capacity to do good and change the social order. This new attitude is demonstrated by the rise of many reform movements, including temperance, abolition, women's rights, and literacy programs.

In a related development, some of the new theology took a similarly active role towards reform, but addressed it through individual improvement. This is particularly evident in the theology of Charles Grandison Finney and the conversion-focused theology that he brought into the Second Great Awakening. According to him, "all sin consists in selfishness; and all holiness or virtue in disinterested benevolence... [Regeneration is] a change from selfishness to benevolence, from having a supreme regard to one's own interests to an absorbing and controlling choice of the happiness of the glory of God's Kingdom."[8] This theology attempts to reform the world by getting the individual "right with God" and thus gives importance to the individual as the locus for all social reform. While the New England liberals did not support Finney, the focus on the individual is a link between them. Here, individual salvation and regeneration appear as part of the new attitude towards a reform which could address the problems of the day.

In turning to Uncle Tom's Cabin and Moby Dick, it will be clear that the authors' use of religious themes draws upon this atmosphere of religious dynamism of their time. However, while both rely heavily on the more current ideas of personal religious experience, inclusive attitude towards salvation, and a sanctification of literature, they also incorporate the religious orthodoxy that these ideas reacted against. For both Stowe and Melville, the use of both traditional and modern ideas was a means of selectively drawing from both of these as part of their respective projects of reform and critique. In their attempts to change the status quo, such a syncretism between conservative and progressive religious ideas had the effect of departing from both the present and the past while drawing on both. As I intend to demonstrate, Stowe's sentimental effort of reform was a constructive effort in its use of ideas out of both traditional Calvinism and modern liberal humanism while Melville's opposition of traditional and modern religious ideas has the effect of showing the inadequacies of both.

In Uncle Tom's Cabin, both the themes of the text and its central program to the reader focus on reform and redemption in a Christian sentimental context. As an attempt to exert as great an influence as possible, Stowe's appeal to sentimentality, liberal Christianity, universalist experience, and traditional structures of purgatory and millenarianism established her text on as many levels as possible. By the time she began writing Uncle Tom's Cabin, Stowe was already familiar with the devices necessary to appeal to a broad audience, due to the financial rewards that a popular story could provide.[9] As Ann Douglas comments, Stowe's use of the sentimental throughout the novel was a departure from the strict and exclusive standards of Calvinism as an effort to reach a wider readership through a more accessible sentimental experience. This medium was particularly influential on the female, middle-class, church-going readership who "comprised the bulk of educated Churchgoers and the vast majority of the dependable reading public...."[10] This appeal to sentiment and use of personal address to the reader was connected to, although not identical with, the emotional and experiential focus of much of the Universalist literature. However, while the latter was more the property of an educated elite, the sentimental approach to the reader particularly evident in the death scenes of Little Eva, St. Clare, and Uncle Tom, was intended to be as accessible. This common rejection of the strictures of Calvinism nevertheless places Stowe's sentimental program in the wider climate of religious response.

Nevertheless, even in its reaction, Uncle Tom's Cabin maintains a central religious motif. From its very inception, this work involved Stowe's own religious life. Her initial inspiration for the central character of a slave who is ultimately beaten to death occurred in a vision following communion. Stowe further insisted that the text itself was divinely inspired, that "the Lord Himself wrote Uncle Tom's Cabin [and I was] simply an instrument in His hand."[11] However, as Stowe's effort was not simply to relate a personal experience or inspiration, but to communicate that experience affectivly to her readership, she used specific tools to substantiate the central religious message of the book to her readership. Stowe's upbringing gave her a wealth of tools at her disposal. The daughter and brother of two of the most important religious reformers of the century, Stowe was intimately familiar with the various debates, theologies, and projects of religious reform in her day. Her use of both reform and traditional theology in the particular areas of gothic damnation and soteriological millenarianism attests to her participation in this climate.

Stowe's use of the gothic landscape and the rhetoric of damnation, drawing on both the traditional Calvinism of Edwards and the reform ideas put foreword by the Beechers was involved in the redemptive mission of her text. As Stowe attempted to lead the nation to a new era of benevolence and forgiveness, she contrasted this ideal to the depraved spiritual state into which it had been led by slavery. As Karen Halttunen points out, Stowe drew on the ideas of her father Lyman Beecher, who adapted traditional Edwardsian ideas of innate damnation to his own project of reform. He used a similar rhetoric to describe the damned state, but showed that it was one into which man entered voluntarily. "All moral action, according to his simplified version of the New Haven theology, was voluntary. Sin lay not in a state of being, but in the act of sinning, the active choice to violate moral law."[12] Stowe employed this idea by making Legree's plantation, with its dilapidated, depraved, and chaotic appearance, symbolic of the spiritual state into which the nation had voluntarily entered by its participation in the sin of slavery. However, Stowe departed from the ideas of her father in her depiction of this damnation as a psychological state, rather than a physical place. Particularly as she relied on the sentimental appeal of a loving, forgiving God, the fires of hell were a human construction of guilt and moral depravity. This is particularly evident in Legree's dream, where the guilt of his rejection of his mother and cruelty toward Cassy lead him to "the edge of a frightful abyss, holding on and struggling in mortal fear, while dark hands stretched up, and were pulling him over...." (Chap. 36). While such a description drew on earlier ideas of damnation and depravity, Stowe's application of it to her own redemptive program made room for the sentimental depiction of a loving God by showing this state to be man's creation, not His.

Against this choice of evil, Stowe uses the character of Tom as the paragon of moral virtue, the correct choice of forgiveness and love. In Tom's discussion with Cassy after his beating, Stowe demonstrates that even in the worst of situations, it is possible to choose the path that leads to salvation. Cassy begins by tempting him to turn cold and unfeeling, as all the other slaves have done:

"But it can't be that the Lord will lay sin to our account," said the woman; "He won't charge it to us, when we're forced to it; He'll charge it to them that drove us to it."

"Yes," said Tom; "but that won't keep us from growing wicked. If I get to be as hard-hearted as that ar' Sambo, and as wicked, it won't make much odds to me how I come so; it's the bein' so, - that's ar's what I'm a dreadin'." (Chap. 33)

Here, presented with the easiest justification of self-retribution, Tom rejects participating in the evil around him. He makes a conscious choice for good, showing that man is not destined for evil, but can conquer it through his own choice.

As Tom's example shines out as a beacon to those around him, giving solace to Cassy and other slaves, and even converting Sambo and Quimbo, Stowe drew on a the projects of moral reform by Taylor and Finney. The social conditions were to be changed by individual conversion and improvement. As Stowe applied this individualistic program to her own religious background, she gave it a decidedly millenarian dimension which drew on the reformed Calvinism of her family. As Tom looks forward to a coming kingdom, he is sustained throughout the trials of this world and is able to act as an example to others. However, Stowe's millenarianism differed from any of her Calvinist forebears, either conservative or liberal. As Helen Westra points out, while Edward's millennium involved doctrinal purity and Lyman Beecher's focused on a democratic promised land, "To Stowe, the millennium stood for a time when Christ's love, unquenchable in the hearts of the faithful believers, would free the enslaved, the captive, and the oppressed would bring peace to their lives."[13] In this sense, while the millennial vision that sustained Tom involved a passivity in its forward-looking hope, it was involved in a redemptive program which sought to accomplish a reform in this world. This again drew on the Calvinist tradition, as Westra demonstrates: "Much as Jonathan Edwards' History of the Work of Redemption had envisioned as worldwide millennial peace, so Stowe's novel anticipates global emancipation and change."[14] After the death of Tom establishes the millennial vision, the book leaves us with this state of peace and redemption. Just about everything works out for all the characters as families are united and they earn prosperity and respect. Particularly as George helps to establish the colony of Liberia in Africa, his vision of this millennium expresses Stowe's dream:

"To the Anglo-Saxon race has been instructed the destinies of the world, during its pioneer period of struggle and conflict. To that mission its stern, inflexible, energetic elements, were well adapted; but as a Christian, I look for another era to arise. On its borders I trust we stand; as the throes that now convulse the nations are, to my hope, but the birth-pangs of an hour of peace and brotherhood. (Chap. 43)

Thus, Stowe proposed a program of individual moral reform based on expectation of the heavenly kingdom, a program which was also an attempt to establish a kingdom of peace on this world. Because slavery was the ultimate sin of the world, its redemption looked to the African to bring in the final era of brotherhood.

The drama of this redemption is acted out thorough Stowe's characters in an attempt to involve the reader in the same project. This is particularly evident in the numerous passages in which Stowe directly addresses the reader and draws him or her into the sentiments of the narrative. In this way, Stowe's novel took a scriptural role in its effort to redeem the reader and bring him or her closer to God. This again is connected to the divine inspiration which Stowe cited as the author of her text. As Stowe attempted to demonstrate the validity of this inspiration to the reader, she relied on stylistic devices to establish this scriptural authority. Her frequent use of Biblical scripture stands as one of these. As Westra point out, "By invoking Holy Writ, these passages and their searing questions represent a moral framework and authority that transcend the novel's fictional elements."[15] Another central stylistic device was Stowe's use of typology. Many of the characters or events of the book are clearly analogous to scripture. Eliza's crossing the Ohio River parallels the flight through the parted Red Sea, Tom's death has Cristological connection, and Little Eva (Evangeline) is an angel on earth. Through these references, Stowe further validated the religious content of the text. Mason Lowance observes:

To make her arguments cohere, she employs the Bible not only as the moral authority that only the Bible can invoke, but also as a rhetorical control, one that gives her text the authority of Scripture by recapitulating biblical characters and by rearranging episodes from the Bible that allow the reader to recognize predictable future events. Stowe thus develops a highly religious context for her story....[16]

Stowe therefore participates in the process which changed the role of literature into a form of scripture; she did so by validating her own personal experience to the reader on a scriptural basis as part of a moral project of reform.

Stowe's effort in Uncle Tom's Cabin has a clear focus in its adaptation of the developments of her religious climate to her program of ending slavery and bringing in a new era. Her reaction to the upheaval of her time was largely a constructive one with this definite program and message. She even goes so far as to give the reader specific directions about how they can best participate in this plan as she urges him or her to pray for, help, and educate blacks after they have been emancipated from slavery (Chap. 45). In turning now to Moby Dick, Melville's effort was directly the opposite. His response to the period of turbulence in which he lived was to write a novel which was intentionally uncentered. As he drew on both traditional and liberal religious ideas, Melville set the two in a mutually de-stabilizing conflict. The hunt for Moby Dick is a religious quest that reveals the inadequacies of all the religious systems on which Melville drew.

There is a clear criticism of orthodox Calvinism in the narrative of Moby Dick; however, through the uncertainty which Melville develops in the narrative, that very voice of critique is weakened in order to show the inadequacies of the challenge of reform ideas as well. This much is evident in the central focus of the text, the hunt for the White Whale. In the capacity of the Whale to inflict judgment wrathfully, I accept Walter Herbert's argument that the Whale represents the God of Calvinism.[17] To hunt the Whale is therefore a challenge to the Calvinist ideal of the vengeful God as arbiter of justice. However, the tragic result of this attempt, heightened by the inadequacies of the central protagonists, described below, and the ultimate victory of the Whale, show the impossibility of this challenge. Similarly, there are moments in which Melville's polemic appears just as sharp against the Unitarian or progressive sentiments as it is against the Calvinists. While much of the book relies on religious ideas out of the liberal climate, such as religious universalism, an experiential vision of divinity, or his use of his own text as scripture, he is in other ways critical of this reform mentality. In the text, as well as the surrounding world, nothing is safe from critique.

This tension is appears in one of Melville's letters to his mentor, Hawthorne. In it, he criticizes Goethe's idea of "the All," a criticism which can extend equally to similar Unitarian ideas. By Melville's appraisal, the demand that Goethe makes to "live in the All" is "nonsense." If someone, for instance, had a toothache, such advice would be shown "to contain an immense deal of flummery...." Nevertheless, Melville ends the letter by reserving some truth for the idea, and still referring to Goethe's work as genius.[18] Thus, there is a tension in the way that he approaches this idea in Goethe. He is both critical of, but does not distance himself so far from the idea as to reject it utterly. Goethe's idea, and Melville's critique of it, has particular relevance to the Unitarian and Transcendentalist concept of unity with all being, as in Emerson's transparent eyeball. As we shall see, Melville is critical of both this reform ideology as well as the conservative one. Nevertheless, he supports both of them insofar as they weaken each other.

Melville's dual critique appears in several places in the novel. As Lawrence Buell points out, the absence of a Christian center places Melville among some of the more radical writers of the time. Like Thoreau and Whitman, he implied an equality between religions, demonstrated by the equivalence of "worship of Yoho and Jehovah (semihomonyms by no accident) as interchangeable rituals."[19] This is also the case in chapter 18, where Ishmael describes Queequeg as belonging to "the "First Congregational Church of the worshipping world," a perspective on religious inclusivism that directly opposes Calvinist dogma. It is also significant that the beginning of the hunt is connected to Father Maple's sermon in chapter 9. While the theme of Jonah's initial disobeyance, and then acceptance of the divine will is definitely relevant to the text as a whole, the tone of the sermon itself leaves the reader uncertain as to whether Maple's words should be accepted as authoritative. As Buell comments, the naiveté and theatrical devices of the sermon discredit its ultimate validity and the basically Calvinistic message which it explains.[20] Melville is similarly critical of the perspectives which discredit religious orthodoxy. In the pseudo-scientific exposition of chapter 83, "Jonah Historically Regarded," Melville shows that "the learned apologist us so transparently unconvincing that he make the whole Jonah motif ridiculous for the moment...."[21] Through these devices, Melville makes the religious references uncertain, so the reader is not sure exactly where Melville's convictions lie even as he makes religious themes central.

This uncertainty is developed in the two central characters of the novel, Ahab and Ishmael. In Ahab, we have a picture of a monomaic madman, yet a man with moments of genius which leads the reader to sympathize to some degree with his rebellion against the injustice of the Calvinist God. In the other is the wishy-washy, unconvincing narrator of the story whose transparency at times makes him utterly forgettable, while his moments of vision and his singular survival make him central to the text. As Herbert comments, the inadequacy of the two central characters is part of Melville's central comment about the loss of an authoritative standard of truth in the turbulence of his time.

When men loose touch with the truth, they become either bigots or infidels.... This is the substance of the relation between Ahab and Ishmael as paired centers of consciousness in Moby Dick: The one displays an "intense bigotry of purpose" (chap. 36) and the other pursues inconclusive spiritual inquiries and struggles against becoming "a wretched infidel" (Chap. 42).[22]

Thus, the reader is led to question the quest in which Ahab implicates the entire crew and the narrative voice which reports it.

Melville makes this uncertainty even stronger by demonstrating that these characters still have positive qualities which makes the reader sympathize with them; thus, the reader must question even his or her skepticism of them. Because the Whale embodies the wrath of the Calvinist God, the reader is led to sympathize with Ahab's challenge of the angry vengeance that the Whale embodies. Ahab's attempt to "strike through the mask" in his speech at the mast-head (chap. 36) is courageous at the same time as it is arrogant. As Herbert points out, "Melville develops an elaborate antithesis between the submission of Jonah and the defiance of Captain Ahab. Jonah accepts the whale's attack as a divine correction; Ahab takes it as an outrageous affront."[23] As we have seen, the rejection of the wrathful person of God was an idea current in Melville's day, one with which his readers would have sympathized. In a way, Ahab's rejection of God's judgment through the Whale was justified. Through Ahab, the Calvinist God appears as repugnant as many religious reformers attempted to portray Him.

Similarly, there are moments where Ishmael's vision gives glimpses of a truth that rises above his inadequacies as a narrator. At one point he expounds: "But as in landlessness alone resides the highest truth, shoreless, indefinite as God -- so, better it is to perish in that howling infinite, than be ingloriously dashed upon the lee, even if that were safety!" (Chap. 23) His capacity for vision draws on that part of Goethe's "All" that Melville felt "there was some truth to." Further, Ishmael's vision here is tied up with the central role of his quest. The Biblical connotation of his name lead the reader to perceive both as part of the covenant and outside of it; he is a wanderer, searching for that reality into which he occasionally enters.

Both Ishmael and Ahab are part of a search for a truth which is beyond their reach. It is one with which the reader can identify in the positive moments of these two characters, but its futility is nevertheless maintained by the inadequacies of both of them. In this sense, Melville makes the quest of the book, both all of its religious connections and criticisms a tragic one even before the final destruction of the Pequod. The very dubiety of the central characters and their personalities dooms it to be so.

The effect of this occasional foray into the realm of truth through the audacity of Ahab and the vision of Ishmael is to establish the text as a precarious religious text. While these moments of breakthrough draw on the idea of the elevation of literature to a scriptural role, Melville's effort is intentionally hesitant. He does not declare absolute authority for his text as Emerson, Thoreau, Whitman, or Stowe did, but rather used his text as a medium through which he could preach a sermon of uncertainty. As Melville locates the truth beyond the boundaries of the text, beyond the capacities of his characters, he makes a statement about the inadequacy of all approaches to that truth. The truth is nevertheless partially manifest in the world and apprehended by man in albeit clouded form. This is particularly evident in Melville's description of the "whiteness of the Whale," his statement about the essential quality of the Whale that point further to the essence of the unspeakable.

Is it that by its indefinedness it shadows forth the heartless voids and immensness of the universe, and thus stabs us from behind with the thoughts of annihilation, when beholding the white depths of the milky way? Or is it, that as in essence whiteness is not so much a color as the visible absence of color, and at the same time the concrete of all colors; is it for these reasons that there is such a dumb blankness, full of meaning, in a wide landscape of snows colorless, all-color of atheism from which we shrink? (Chap. 42)

The repetitive questioning in this passage is left unanswered. There can be no answer to them, because here, on the frontiers of the truth, language breaks down. There is, for Melville, no definite way in which the truth can be represented, either linguistically or religiously. The mutual negation of all the approaches to truth shows the inadequacies of them all. Melville's scripture, the text itself, therefore has a similarly dual role as his characters and narrative do. It is points to a truth beyond its own expression; it is both scripture and anti-scripture.

Melville's religious program through Moby Dick is to lead the reader to confront this uncertainty, the unknowability of truth, which has characterized his day. Thus, while he shows the inadequacies of religious traditions, he nevertheless maintains that there is a truth behind them. By dismantling the structures, his own text included, which attempt to reach it, Melville endeavors to bring the reader into a more direct confrontation with that truth. This confrontation involves uncertainty, fear, and upheaval, qualities that were characteristic of the change in reality of his time. As Herbert argues:

Moby Dick is, accordingly, not a dismissal of the biblical and theological traditions which it deploys; the sinking of the Pequod is not an aquatic version of the one-hoss shay's collapse. On the contrary, Melville challenges us to join in a revitalized conversation in which Ahab and Ishmael, Job and Jonah, Solomon and the Man of Sorrows engage in imagination directly....[24]

This dynamic of the text, its criticism of religious structures and its occupation with an unexpressable truth, perhaps explains Melville's statement to Hawthorne "I have just written an evil book, and feel spotless as the lamb."[25] His effort is ultimately not a destructive one. In its criticism of the religious structures of his day, he demonstrates their inadequacy in an effort to transcend them. There is a truth for Melville, one whose ultimacy resists human expression.

The uncertainty inherent in religious change was the central question in both Uncle Tom's Cabin and Moby Dick. Both works were composed in an atmosphere of turbulence, change, and upheaval, with the palpable threat of civil war on the horizon. The use of religious themes by both these authors was a response to this climate in which a central religious ideology or truth had been threatened as much as the nation itself. The syncretic efforts of both of these text show both authors using the material that these conflicting traditions provided. In the one, the sentimental redemptive program offers a reformative solution to the upheaval; the other highlights it in an effort to de-absolutize all avenues to the truth. That the two most famous texts of the eighteenth century were composed in such chronological proximity, and nevertheless make use of this material to such different ends, emphasizes the conflict in this time.

~hTu v  >&Q(D0 `02$`RFlrx @ 7Ogmno Bvz \ `%)""$(((,,005B5F5<<@@HHHJFJJJKLLLTTVhVlWWſî!0!0!0!0!0!0!0!0!0!0*!0 !0 !0!0 !0!0!0!:WX]] ^__cciijmnmrtwt{w4w8xxy6yoys|a}}X\xɍԏcrľĸıīīęğğğĸğ!!0!0!0 !0!0!0!0!0 !0!!!!!!!!0*  ޔrr\=*4?JJU/_vjv Dr [ 9 H  *  xKWrLM  Z [&&r29HH(FG(HH(d'@=/@H-:LaserWr Newer New YorkGenevaNE