Chapter 16. Melville, Whitman, and the Tribulations of Democracy

  1. Paul Lauter president
  1. Betsy Erkkila

Published Online: 16 MAR 2010

DOI: 10.1002/9781444320626.ch16

A Companion to American Literature and Culture

A Companion to American Literature and Culture

How to Cite

Erkkila, B. (2010) Melville, Whitman, and the Tribulations of Democracy, in A Companion to American Literature and Culture (ed P. Lauter), Wiley-Blackwell, Oxford, UK. doi: 10.1002/9781444320626.ch16

Editor Information

  1. Trinity College (Hartford), UK

Author Information

  1. Northwestern University, USA

Publication History

  1. Published Online: 16 MAR 2010
  2. Published Print: 26 MAR 2010

ISBN Information

Print ISBN: 9780631208921

Online ISBN: 9781444320626



  • Melville, Whitman, and the tribulations of democracy;
  • Melville and Whitman - crisis over revolutionary ideals of the founding and the American “experiment” with democracy;
  • decade of the thirties - militant resistance to federal power and inhumane social conditions of slavery;
  • social and political contests of the time - conflict between promise of the Declaration of Independence, between democratic rights and constitutional law;
  • revolutionary formations - Whitman's family, democratic party politics in the Age of Jackson;
  • Whitman and Melville, retreating from radical political movements of their time, abolition and reconstruction;
  • The American 1848 - envisioning specter of mass carnage and a second American Revolution - Battle of Monmouth seeming like child's play;
  • Mardi and a Voyage Thither (1849) - as another sea narrative in the popular mode of Typee and Omoo;
  • epics of democracy;
  • the fractured state - exploring nagging ironies, contradictions, and delusions of revolutionary heritage


This chapter contains sections titled:

  • Loomings

  • Revolutionary Formations

  • Body Politics

  • The American 1848

  • Epics of Democracy

  • The Fractured State

  • The Civil War

  • Democratic Vistas

  • References and Further Reading