A Caltech Library Service

The Reproduction of Homosocial Domesticity Aboard the Pequod in Melville’s Moby Dick


Liu, Grace (2023) The Reproduction of Homosocial Domesticity Aboard the Pequod in Melville’s Moby Dick. Other, California Institute of Technology. doi:10.7907/cjv8-8792.


[Introduction] In the 19th century, American society expected men and women to occupy entirely different worlds. Gender norms dictated that women belonged at home, in the domestic realm, where they performed routine household tasks and provided comfort and emotional support to their family. On the other hand, these norms encouraged men to pursue adventure and passion, and ideals of masculinity revolved around power and individuality. On the surface, the setting of a whaling boat is the perfect realization of the masculine sphere, as a group of men leave the domestic shore to travel the world, while reaping economic benefit and asserting power over nature by killing the seemingly indomitable sperm whale. This is the picture that Herman Melville paints at first in his 1851 novel Moby Dick, in which the main character Ishmael embarks with the crew of the Pequod to escape domesticity and takes part in Captain Ahab’s quest to kill the white whale. However, as Ishmael discusses his daily life, it becomes apparent that even in the absence of women, homosocial interactions on the ship recreate a new type of domesticity. Ishmael embraces the unexpected appearance of domesticity on the Pequod, which enables him to survive the disastrous encounter with Moby Dick. This contrasts the tragic fate of Captain Ahab, who rejects all opportunities to take part in domestic affairs in favor of pursuing his individual quest to kill Moby Dick. By recreating domesticity on the Pequod and contrasting Ishmael with Ahab, Melville arrives at an important conclusion: domesticity persists even in masculine spheres and repeated attempts to eradicate it only result in disaster.

Item Type:Thesis (Other)
Subject Keywords:Hallett Smith Prize; Hixon Writing Center
Degree Grantor:California Institute of Technology
Division:Humanities and Social Sciences
Major Option:English
Awards:Hallett Smith Prize, 2023.
Thesis Availability:Restricted to Caltech community only
Research Advisor(s):
  • Weinstein, Cindy A.
Group:Hallett Smith Prize, Hixon Writing Center
Thesis Committee:
  • None, None
Defense Date:4 April 2023
Record Number:CaltechThesis:06162023-221050696
Persistent URL:
Default Usage Policy:No commercial reproduction, distribution, display or performance rights in this work are provided.
ID Code:16122
Deposited By: Hanna Ramsey
Deposited On:20 Jun 2023 18:36
Last Modified:22 Jun 2023 23:40

Thesis Files

[img] PDF - Final Version
Restricted to Caltech community only
See Usage Policy.


Repository Staff Only: item control page