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"Moby-Dick" and "Uncle Tom’s Cabin": Separate Spheres, Parallel Worlds

Jonathan A. Cook

Pages 329 - 351



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This essay undertakes a comparative study of "Moby-Dick" and "Uncle Tom’s Cabin" as synchronous productions of mid-nineteenth-century American literature. Seen in conjunction, these iconic novels may be said to typify the pervasive antebellum ideology of “separate spheres” situating women in the home (Stowe) and men in the marketplace (Melville). Yet the two novels simultaneously disclose many striking resemblances illustrating the overlapping of their gendered spheres, thus demonstrating their occupation of what might be called parallel worlds. In order to explore their resemblances, I examine both novels in a broad range of shared literary, historical, and cultural contexts including their adaptations of the ideologies of sentimentality and domesticity, their sympathy for racial outsiders, their use of contemporary minstrelsy, their concern with moral and social reform, their pervasive biblical symbolism, their melodramatic Gothic villains, and their encyclopedic analysis of their institutional subject matter. By comparing "Moby-Dick" and "Uncle Tom’s Cabin" within such contexts, we can gain insight into various overlooked similarities between these oddly symbiotic works of American literature, whose comprehensive literary vision accords with their widespread appeal.

Key Words: "Moby-Dick"; "Uncle Tom’s Cabin"; separate spheres; domesticity; sentimentality

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