Class Year


Document Type

Student Research Paper

Date of Creation

Spring 2017

Department 1



What is the American Gothic a reaction to? Whereas other thinkers such as Nathaniel Hawthorne locates the building blocks of the American Gothic in Puritan Christianity or Amerindian Genocide, I argue that Melville posits the genesis of chattel slavery and the construction of racial category as the repressed events that haunt the Americas and return uninvited. By using the Gothic motif of the living corpse, the famed writer of Moby-Dick addresses the social bereavement which Blackness comes to represent in the Americas. By looking for truth on the skin and flesh, the main characters of Moby-Dick and “Benito Cereno” represent the Enlightenment precept that truth can be arrested via observation and interpretation. Melville presents two Black characters as impasses in this project of interpretation: Moby-Dick’s drowned boy, Pip, and “Benito Cereno’s” undead leader, Babo.


Written as an English Honors Thesis.