Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Master of Arts (MA)



First Advisor

Dr. Bruce Baker


In Typee, Mardi, and Moby-Dick by Herman Melville, the sea functions as a symbol which expresses Melville's changing worldview. The most important characteristic of a symbol is that its referent is non-ostensive. That is, the symbol refers not only to an intangible concept but also one that can only be defined completely or comprehended fully. It may be that symbols are derived from man's awareness of the absurdity of his existence. Man is not responsible for his birth, nor can he avoid his death. During his empirical existence he craves some kind of order, unity, reason, and meaning in this world. This desire leads to an attempt to define himself and to understand himself and his relationships with nature and with society. An irreducible something makes it impossible for him to know himself, another, or his situation fully. The symbol is also multi vocal in that it means different things to different people . Hence, man create symbols in an attempt to find his identity through an ordering of his experience. At this time the intangible and undefinable quality of the symbol reflects the impossibility of knowing and understanding it completely. (Man continues, through symbols, to find a somewhere to be and a reason to be there. For Melville the sea is the symbol for that human predicament.)


A Thesis Presented to the Department of English and the Faculty of the Graduate College University of Nebraska In Partial Fulfillment of the Requirements for the Degree Master of Arts University of Nebraska at Omaha. Copyright 1972 Mary Jane Kopperud Ramsey.

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