Date of Award
John Milton and Herman Melville, despite 184 years and an ocean of separation, created two of Western literature’s grandest rebels in Satan and Ahab. I propose that these two characters are blueprints for a literary type, that of the fallen revolutionary. Both assert their own equality and try to overthrow the power structures that they feel oppress them in their respective settings, but both, instead of destroying the inequality that drove them to rebel, betray their own cause and comrades by serving only themselves. Both Milton and Melville advocated for increasing political democratization within their societies; Milton fought against the monarchy, while Melville was a whole-hearted believer in the American democratic experiment. In Paradise Lost, Milton creates Satan as an opponent to the monarchical Father in Heaven, but who fails to carry out his revolution completely, as he becomes a tyrant in hell obsessed with destruction rather than a liberator intent on creation and freedom. In Moby Dick, Ahab is rebelling against what he feels is the metaphysical inequality of the universe that manifests itself in the white while; he too rails against divine oppression, but he too establishes himself as a tyrant aboard the Pequod seeking only to raise himself above his peers rather than enable the freedom of all. Neither rebel’s principles can be wholly discounted, but we also must move beyond their example and recognize the need to fully free ourselves from tyranny and embrace our collective humanity through more communitarian and compassionate philosophies.
Platt, Benjamin, "I'd Strike the Son if He Insulted Me: Milton's and Melville's Flawed Revolutionaries" (2018). Honors Theses AY 17/18. 17.