Tawny Savages and Blank-Looking Girls: Melville, Capitalism, and Racialized Labor

Ivy G. Wilson*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter


With characteristic verve, equal parts incisive as nuanced, Morrison illuminates the costs of whiteness as an ideology for both white and Black Americans. Melville was engaged in some simple and simple-minded black/white didacticism, or that he was satanizing white people. Morrison’s depiction of the crew gains its meaning not through the more political, if affective, language of community but rather through the economic, and particularly Marxist, lexicon of “proletariat, " “commodity, " and “labor.” From Morrison’s understanding of the racial economies of chattel slavery to Eric Williams’s earlier claims about the interconnections between capitalism and slavery. This chapter examines Melville’s representations of factories to evince how the vicissitudes of racial formation always animate, if not underwrite, the imperatives of capitalism.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Title of host publicationA New Companion to Herman Melville
Number of pages9
ISBN (Electronic)9781119668565
ISBN (Print)9781119668503
StatePublished - Jan 1 2022


  • Melville’s representations
  • Morrison
  • capitalism
  • racial economies
  • slavery
  • white didacticism

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Arts and Humanities


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