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L’Imaginaire-Melville

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Viola Sachs

Revolution and Identity in Melville’s White-Jacket and Israel Potter

Dominique Marçais

Résumé

Le thème révolutionnaire, indissociable de la définition de l’identité, se trouve au centre de la fiction melvillienne. Rien de surprenant pour un auteur sensible aux tensions et contradictions d’une jeune république à la recherche de son identité culturelle et nationale, lui-même témoin des révolutions européennes de 1848. Le texte melvillien explore le rôle et l’importance de la révolution dans la définition de l’identité américaine, non pas littéralement mais de façon symbolique et souvent oblique. L’esprit ou plutôt l’idéal révolutionnaire de Melville s’exprime indirectement par des jeux de mots, des noms ou des épisodes étranges, des changements de dates ou des erreurs significatives. Ainsi White-Jacket, le héros de White-Jacket or The World in a Man-of-War, incarne-t-il le pionnier idéal, le chantre des nouveaux Etats-Unis. Un jeu subtil sur les différents sens du mot Jack établit des liens indéniables entre identité, couleur et révolution. Si White-Jacket exprime un certain messianisme, en revanche Israel Potter : His Fifty Years of Exile remet en cause le mythe américain de la Terre Promise et le concept même de révolution. Israël Potter, patriote modèle, qui, en combattant à Bunker Hill, a contribué à créer les Etats-Unis, est en fait un anti-héros. Rejeté par son propre pays, il devient l’emblème de l’étranger et son histoire une parodie iconoclaste du mythe de la Terre Promise. Figure de l’errance et de la dissémination, Israel incarne l’esprit de la révolution, une révolution réduite à un phénomène cyclique et répétitif et par conséquent désormais incapable de générer ou de régénérer individu et société.

Texte intégral

  • 1 On the impact of the French Revolution, see L’Héritage de la Revolution française, ed. Francois Fur (...)

1Revolution and its implications are among Melville’s primary concerns from Mardi on to his later and more mature writings. This is not surprising as the American Republic created by a revolution some seventy years earlier was then in its formative years. A critical observer of his country’s emerging values and contradictions, Melville also witnessed the European revolutions of 1848, all of which can be traced back to the formidable ferment and ideals brought about by the American and the French Revolutions.1

  • 2 Larry Reynolds’s perspective in European Revolutions and the American Literary Renaissance, New Hav (...)

2However, I do not propose to explore the role and importance of revolution in Melville’s fiction literally2 but, following Melville’s injunction in “The Whiteness of the Whale”, I intend to use both “imagination” and “subtlety”, to dive into the “subterranean” and “hidden” depths of Melville’s text:

  • 3 Moby-Dick; or, The Whale, ed. Harold Beaver, Hardmondsworth, Penguin Books, 1972. All quotations re (...)

Can we thus hope to light upon some chance clue to conduct us to the hidden cause we seek? Let us try. But in a matter like this, subtlety appeals to subtlety and without imagination no man can follow another into these halls. Moby-Dick; or, The Whale (ch. 42, p. 292)3

Melville’s revolutionary spirit, is, so to speak, smuggled into the text, assuming various guises, hiding in puns, in words inscribed within others, in strange names and curious episodes, in errors and mistakes. So the famous passage expressing White-Jacket’s faith in the revolutionary ideals of America:

  • 4 White-Jacket or The World in a Man-of-War, eds. Harrison Hayford, Hershel Parker and G. Thomas Tans (...)

We are the pioneers of the world; the advance-guard sent on through the wilderness of untried things, to break a new path in the world that is ours. White-Jacket or The World in a Man-of-War (ch. 36, p. 151),4

can be read differently, no longer as the expression of some blind optimism in the bright future of the United States of America but as a tribute to what Melville himself calls in Israel Potter the “true revolutionary”, that is to any man capable, like White-Jacket, of discarding his inherited prejudices, capable of a “revolution”, of evolving, of revolving, of turning things or himself upside down or inside out, ready to lose all certainties, to confront boldly unknown territories and “sail forbidden seas”. Moby-Dick; or, The Whale, (ch. 1, p. 98).

Revolution and Identity in White-Jacket or The World in a Man-of-War

3White-Jacket represents the “true pioneer”. Once he has discarded his white jacket in one of the final chapters of the book, he, who so far had been repeatedly excluded, becomes a jack, that is a man able to join in the community of men. The narrowing and restricting limits of the self disappear with his white jacket. Significantly in the last chapter White-Jacket hardly uses the personal “I” or “my” but insistently the more communal “we” and “our”:

we main-top-men are all aloft in the top, and round our mast, we circle, a brother-band, hand in hand, all spliced together. We have reefed the last top-sail [...]. We have mustered our last round the capstan. White-Jacket or the World in a Man-of-War (ch. 93, p. 396)

4The color of the jacket –white– obviously points to its racial significance. To become a member of the human community, the narrator has to discard his “whiteness", i.e. the prejudices he had inherited as a white man; only thus can he recover the original blackness common to all men, for, according to Ishmael, in fact,

a white man is nothing more dignified than a white-washed negro. Moby-Dick; or, The Whale (ch. 13, p. 155).

  • 5 Melville’s inverted commas and italics.

5Jacket is the diminutive form of Jack, a name given to a certain number of characters on board the Neversink; to Jack Chase, “the noble First Captain of the Top” whom White-Jacket loves and admires, to Mad Jack, the Junior Lieutenant, to “Happy Jack5, a sailor contrasted to the black slave Guinea and finally to Jack Jewel, a minor character. The various meanings of Jack as well as the episodes in which these characters are involved point to their relation to the theme of revolution, order and disorder and to Melville’s redefinition of identity.

  • 6 Melville’s spelling and italics.

6The name Jack, derived from the Latin Jacob evokes the Jacobins, the famous French revolutionaries. On board the Neversink some nameless fellows, called Troglodites or “holder?6 who live in the subterranean parts of the ship are compared to:

the mysterious old men of Paris [issuing] forth during the massacre of the Three Days of September. White-Jacket or the World in a Man-of-War (ch. 3, p. 11)

  • 7 Melville’s italics.
  • 8 Melville’s italics.
  • 9 Melville’s spelling.
  • 10 Melville’s italics.

The Jacobins were held responsible for murdering the imprisoned aristocrats and clergy in September 1792; the presence of words like “gale”, “tempest”, “commotion” in the passage connotes disorder, unrest, change and violence. The nickname of one of those mysterious Jacobins, Old Revolver7literally means revolve, hence revolution. Another of them, Old Combustibles8, who carries a key “nearly as big as the key of the Bastile"9 (p. 128) and hence explicitly related to the French Revolution is further associated to the Gunpowder plot, a famous episode in the history of the Counter-Reformation during the reign of the Jacobin king, James I. Both of these Jacobins who aptly live « underground »10 are involved in “mysterious” and “secret” dealings (pp. 124-126).

  • 11 On this point, see my article “Les jeux sur le blanc et le noir chez Melville”, in Du noir au blanc (...)

7Jack, familiar for John, designates the common man, while jack tar, which means sailor, connotes black. Black thus characterizes the original identity of man, an identity which White-Jacket finally recovers when he gets rid of his white jacket.11

8Jack also refers to a young male animal, and in nineteenth century nautical slang it means an erect penis. Curiously all the characters named Jack, as well as Old Revolver, are inseparable from sexuality and from the definition of virility. Jack Chase, a favorite among the ladies, is a charmer “with a heart in him like a mastodon’s" (p. 320). Mad Jack, described as “the man born in a gale” (p. 33), is contrasted to the effeminate Selvagee and to the Captain of the ship Claret in a tragic episode referred to as “a manhood-testing conjuncture” (p. 111). Happy Jack appears to be devoid of virility, being:

a fellow without shame, without a soul, so dead to the dignity of manhood that he could hardly be called a man. (ch. 90, p. 384)

Finally a reference to Old Revolver’s “unaccountable bachelor oddities” (p. 125) appears in a passage full of sexual innuendoes.

9A black jack is also a tarred leather vessel for alcoholic drink. Jack Chase and Mad Jack, though officers, are called “tars”, a name which suggests both black and “spirits”. Moreover both of them drink. Jack Chase was once a “dashing smuggler” (p. 317), a hint at his taste for liquor and illegal activities. Mad Jack, whose nickname evokes mental disorder, “only drinks brandy” (p. 34); “a lover of strong drink” (p. 111), his “one fearful failing is drinking” (p. 34). His “mm and tobacco" is all that matters to the “reckless tar” known as Happy Jack (p. 383). Similarly Old Revolver, likened to a sooty Cornwall miner, lives in “tarry cellars” among “tarry old ropes” which he counts over:

as if they were all jolly puncheons of old Port and Madeira, (ch. 30, p. 125)

  • 12 Jean Brun in Le Retour de Dionysos, Paris, Les Bergers et les Mages, 1976 and Michel Maffesoli in L (...)
  • 13 I have developed these themes in my article “Transmutation of Identity in Melville’s White-Jackef, (...)

10Just as the “Jacks” of the Neversink try “to smuggle spirits into the vessel" (p. 177), Melville, the Jacobin, smuggles a new spirit into his text, obviously playing on the various implications of the word “spirit”. This revolutionary spirit takes the form of “the ever-devilish god of grog” (p. 176, 390), offered as an alternative to the “terrific God of War” (p. 357). The only two gods referred to in the text, Bacchus and Mars (p. 153, 209), fight for supremacy over the Neversink and her crew. The Dionysian spirit, manifested in the communal drinking of grog, allows for orgiastic and mystical regeneration12. It calls all men, all Jacks, to life and liberation through change, whereas the terrific God of War leads to oppression, destruction and death. A mysterious and sacred power, it gives access to a new mode of thought and feeling, involving a religious, political and sexual revolution. It is no coincidence, then, that the champions or spokesmen of this new “order", White-Jacket, Jack Chase and Mad Jack should all be involved in episodes dealing with salvation and redemption, order and disorder, change and revolution.13

11Thus on a dramatic “black night” during a terrible storm off Cape Horn, Captain Claret

bursting from his cabin like a ghost in his night-dress (ch. 26, p. 106)

  • 14 Melville’s italics.

cries out: “Hard up14 the helm!” which would have led to the sinking of the ship. To this Mad Jack shouts:

  • 15 Melville’s italics.

Damn you! [...] hard down–hard down15, I say, and be damned to you! (ch. 26, p. 106)

This reversal of his “superior’s order” saves the ship. Mad Jack indeed, through his revolutionary act becomes “the saving genius of the ship” (ch. 26, p. 106).

12In another case, Mad Jack’s intervention avoids bloodshed and mutiny onboard. This occurs when Captain Claret insists on having all the sailors cut their hair and shave their beards, which they take as a threat to their manhood:

Shave off our Christian heads! And then, placing them between our knees trim small our worshiped beards! The Captain was mad. (ch. 87, p. 356)

The sexual and religious undertones are unmistakable; castration is what is at stake, demanded by the “terrific God of War” to whom the beards, “those true badges of warriors”, tokens of “manhood” and “brotherhood” (p. 357) are to be offered. The men’s refusal to have their hair and beards shaved off would have led to mutiny. Mad Jack then persuades them to comply:

“What do you mean, men? dont’ be fools! This is no way to get what you want. Turn to, my lads, turn to! So! up you tumble, now, my hearties! away you go!” (ch. 87, p. 358)

First addressed as “men”, then as “lads” suggesting lad / y and effeminacy, the sailors finally become “hearties”, a non-sexual term indicating that in complying with Mad Jack’s order, they have undergone significant changes.

Revolution and Identity in Israel Potter

  • 16 Melville’s formulation.

13Revolution is presented somewhat differently in Israel Potter: His Fifty Years of Exile, the obscure story of a “true patriot” and revolutionary. It appears, not so much as a historical event but as a continuous and recurrent natural phenomenon, comparable if not identical to the cyclic movement of the seasons, of time and nature, as the use of dates clearly indicates. The two dates mentioned in the Dedication of the novel addressed “To His Highness the Bunker-Hill Monument” – “June 17, 1775”, the date of the battle of Bunker-Hill and “June 17th, 1854”16, its anniversary – point to the idea that one has come full circle.

  • 17 Israel Potter: His Fifty Years of Exile, eds. Harrison Hayford, Hershel Parker and G. Thomas Tansel (...)
  • 18 On the theme of revolution in The Scarlet Letter, see Helene Ah-Tune, “"The Custom-House” de Nathan (...)

14Similarly, in his youth, Israel Potter leaves home for the first time on a “sultry night in July” (Israel Potter, ch. 2, p. 8)17, only to come back to the United States, an old man, on a “sultry July day” (ch. 26, p. 167). Only the second date is specifically determined as being a Fourth of July, but the use of the same adjective ( “sultry”), the alternative given – “night “for his leaving, “day “for his return – implies that Israel Potter also left on a Fourth of July. As he himself says in the final chapter: “The ends meet” (ch. 26, p. 169). The subtitle of the magazine edition of Israel Potter, A Fourth of July Story emphasized the theme of revolution. These concerns and devices are not only Melville’s. In “The Custom-House” too18, Hawthorne uses natural metaphors in relation with the revolution. In the same way, Thoreau chooses to move to his cabin on Walden Pond on a Fourth of July, pointing to a similarity between historical, natural and personal revolution.

15The repetition of the word “biography” (bio/graphy) in the Dedication – “autobiographical”, “biographer” and “Great Biographer” – stresses the relations Melville wants to establish between life and writing, and announces the themes developed in the final paragraph of the novel:

He [Israel Potter] dictated a little book, the record of his fortunes. But long ago it faded out of print – himself out of being – his name out of memory. He died the same day that the oldest oak on his native hill was blown down. (ch. 26, p. 169)

Writing becomes inseparable from life, death and survival. The book saves Israel from oblivion and total extinction by preserving his identity, thus bringing him back to life. Writing which operates backwards, as it tells “an ended life” (Dedication, p. VII), becomes in itself a revolution. The Dedication fully develops relations between writing, life, death and survival by equating the Bunker-Hill Monument, a reminder of the Revolution, both with the narrative of Israel’s adventures and Israel’s grave. The granite Monument, “somewhat prematurely gray” (p. VII), becomes the duplicate or rather a “reprint” of Israel’s life:

I am the more encouraged to lay this performance at the feet of your Highness because, with a change in the grammatical person, it preserves almost as in a reprint, Israel Potter’s autobiographical story. (Dedication, p. VII)

The novel itself, drawn from:

a little narrative of Israel’s adventures, forlornly published on sleazy gray paper, now out of print (Dedication, p. VII)

and likened to “a dilapitated old tombstone retouched” can be regarded as Israel’s grave, or as the sign of his immortality.

  • 19 In Les Structures anthropologiques de l’imaginaire, Paris, Bordas, 1969, Gilbert Durand points to t (...)

16The allusions to spring, summer and winter in the Dedication announce the final comparison of Israel to “the oldest oak in his native hills” (ch. 26, p. 169). Revolution, no longer only historical becomes a literal and natural phenomenon, inseparable from writing, life, death and survival. Israel’s life, like the novel, describes a full circle or a cycle19. This is why in one of the early chapters, although young, Israel looks like “an old man of eighty” (p. 19) and when actually an octogenarian, in the final chapter, he feels like “a little infant” (p. 169).

  • 20 See Viola Sachs, The Game of Creation, editions de la Maison des Sciences de l’Homme, Paris, 1982 ( (...)
  • 21 On the significance of 13, see Viola Sachs’s articles, “American Identity, the Bible and the Script (...)

17Instead of going forward, Israel is constantly pulled backwards, driven back to his infancy, to the place where his life started. Similarly, in the final chapter, chapter 26, a number traditionally linked to God in the Kabbala and used as such in Moby-Dick; or, The Whale20, Israel’s homecoming, which proves “less a return than resurrection” (ch. 26, p. 169), re-enacts a previous resurrection. When Squire Woodcock “buries Israel alive” in the coffin-cell hidden in his chimney, he promises Israel that “his resurrection will soon be at hand" (ch. 12, p. 68). It comes true three days later, significantly on the day of the squire’s burial. This episode takes place in chapter 13, a number inseparable from the American Revolution in Melville’s writing since 13 refers to the 13 original states of the United States21. Israel Potter becomes a Christ-figure. This image appears clearly in chapter 26 in which the reader is told that Israel’s wounds made him “the bescarred bearer of a cross” (ch. 26, p. 167).

18Melville plays on the Scriptural connotation of the hero’s name. Israel’s name indeed proves prophetic since like God’s Chosen People,

poor Israel wandered in the wild wilderness of the world’s extremest hardships and ills. (ch. 1, p. 6)

19“Well-named” too when Israel is pictured “toiling as a brick-maker in his pit”, “bondsman in the English Egypt for thirteen weary weeks” (ch. 23, pp. 155 et 157), another veiled hint at the American Revolution.

20Israel’s personal tribulations thus re-enact those of God’s Chosen People. But the name Israel has even more subtle implications for someone as conversant with the Bible as Melville. In Genesis (32, 1-28), God changes Jacob’s name to that of Israel. This implicitly links Israel Potter to the Jacobins or the Jacobites, hence to the revolutionary tradition. The comparison of Benjamin Franklin, one of the signers of the Declaration of the Fourth of July 1776, to patriarchal Jacob, “his scriptural parallel” (ch. 8, p. 46), reinforces the links of the name Jacob with the motif of revolution. The story of biblical Jacob who managed to usurp his elder brother’s place through cunning, represents an overthrowing of traditional Hebrew values, a disruption of human order. By changing Jacob’s original name, which meant “following after or supplanter” and was illustrated by Jacob’s personal history, God raised him to the dignity of an equal. Since Israel means “ruling with God”, he clearly becomes the one chosen by God to rule with Him, to be his “Messiah”.

21Potter, Israel’s last name, unchanged by Melville, means moulder or maker, thus associating him to Creation. The “thirteen weary weeks” – Melville’s invention – during which he toils “in the English Egypt” (p. 155) probably stand for the thirteen original states present at the creation of the United States. The allusion to Potter’s Field in the last chapter reinforces the Messianic dimension of the hero. According to St Matthew (27, 7-10), the Elders used the thirty pieces of silver – the price of Judas’ betrayal, Christ’s monetary value – to buy the Potter’s Field in which to bury strangers. This Potter’s Field is all that is left to the exile when he finally reaches the Promised Land. A wanderer and an exile all his life, Israel remains “an alien” (p. 164) in his own land. He gets no recognition: no pension, no medals. All honors are for false prophets and fake heroes. The “true patriot” has no place in the United States of America except in Potter’s Field – a graveyard for strangers. Melville’s new Messiah coming home finds a United States of America incapable of recognizing the true revolutionary and accepting his message. The long cherished hope of the early Puritans – that America would be the scene of the second coming of Christ – will not be fulfilled.

22The insistence on 26, a number which, as already pointed out, conceals a reference to God as well as the changes in the dates introduced by Melville, especially his insistence on the number 50 and an intriguing blunder in computation in chapter 7 mark Israel as Melville’s new Messiah in a most “subtle” and “imaginative” way.

23Melville deliberately altered the date 1823 given in Trumbull’s Life and Remarkable Adventures of Israel Potter as the year of Israel’s return in order to round out the half century of his exile to 1826, which was thematically appropriate as the fiftieth anniversary of the Declaration of Independence and also was the year in which both Thomas Jefferson and John Adams died. However the omission of the subtitle of the magazine edition A Fourth of July Story, in the Putnam book edition of 1855 stresses the importance of the other subtitle His Fifty Years of Exile. To number the chapters of the novel Melville used Roman numerals; in such a system of transcription 50 is represented by L which may hide a reference to EL, God’s name in Hebrew.

  • 22 Arnold Rampersad in Melville’s Israel Potter: A Pilgrimage and Progress, Bowling Green, Ohio, Bowli (...)
  • 23 A similar error in reckoning appears in Moby-Dick; or, The Whale, when Flask translates the sixteen (...)
  • 24 See Gershom Scholem, La Kabbale et sa symbolique, Paris, Payot, 1980, and especially Le Nom de Dieu (...)

24The insistence on 72 could also be interpreted as a hidden or mock reference to God. In chapter 7 Benjamin Franklin who is said to be “72 years old" (p. 39) gets into a heated argument with Israel about the price of bread and wine, the traditional symbols of the body and blood of Christ and tokens of immortal life22 . The presence of thirteen ( “thirteen glasses in a bottle”, p. 44), a hidden reference to the American Revolution and the creation of the United States, puts the reader on his guard. Then follows an error in computation thrice repeated as to the price and number of some bread-loaves. Melville’s incorrect arithmetic, both in the Putnam Monthly and in the Putnam book edition, obviously points to the importance of 72; it seems therefore difficult to agree with the corrections introduced in the Newberry edition in which 72 has been changed to 7823. Given Franklin’s interest in the occult and especially in the Kabbala, a fact alluded to in the same chapter (p. 38), 72 may well have some special significance. According to the Kabbala, the most mighty name of God must contain 72 letters. The knowledge of this name was the greatest power a man could assume24. Israel Potter, then, would be the only one endowed with such power.

25In the course of his wanderings, his being denied both state and status forces Israel to assume various disguises, to take false names and change identities. At times he even becomes a scarecrow or a ghost, losing humanity and materiality. This mutability and uncertainty as regards a stable and definable personal identity announces the world of illusion and deceit of The Confidence-Man: His Masquerade. Israel, however, is no confidence-man but an “adventurer”, the word implying the arbitrary and the fortuitous, who vainly tries to find his way out of a labyrinthine world ruled by capricious forces. The insistence on the words “adventurers” and “adventures” throughout the novel and above all the following passage in the Dedication

but Israel Potter seems purposely to have waited to make his popular advent under the present exalted patronage (p. VIII)

however, points to a different meaning of the word, to the coming or second coming of Christ called, indifferently, Millenium or Advent. Obviously Israel Potter, Melville’s new Messiah, is still waiting to be popularly accepted and recognized.

Notes

1 On the impact of the French Revolution, see L’Héritage de la Revolution française, ed. Francois Furet, Paris, Hachette, 1989 and Jean Starobinski, Les Emblèmes de la raison, Paris, Flammarion, 1991.

2 Larry Reynolds’s perspective in European Revolutions and the American Literary Renaissance, New Haven, Yale University Press, 1989, is totally different from mine, since Reynolds dwells mostly on the impact of the 1848 revolutions on Melville from a historical and biographical point of view.

3 Moby-Dick; or, The Whale, ed. Harold Beaver, Hardmondsworth, Penguin Books, 1972. All quotations refer to the editions indicated in the footnotes; italics unless otherwise stated are mine.

4 White-Jacket or The World in a Man-of-War, eds. Harrison Hayford, Hershel Parker and G. Thomas Tanselle, Evanston and Chicago, Northwestern University Press and the Newberry Library, 1970. Melville’s italics. 5- Melville’s inverted commas and italics.

5 Melville’s inverted commas and italics.

6 Melville’s spelling and italics.

7 Melville’s italics.

8 Melville’s italics.

9 Melville’s spelling.

10 Melville’s italics.

11 On this point, see my article “Les jeux sur le blanc et le noir chez Melville”, in Du noir au blanc, Figures, n° 6 et 7, 1990-1991, (pp. 173- 86).

12 Jean Brun in Le Retour de Dionysos, Paris, Les Bergers et les Mages, 1976 and Michel Maffesoli in L’Ombre de Dionysos, Paris, Klincksieck, 1985, expatiate on this motif.

13 I have developed these themes in my article “Transmutation of Identity in Melville’s White-Jackef, in Letterature d’America, Anno VI, n° 27, Primavera 1985 (pp. 51-65), published in 1988.

14 Melville’s italics.

15 Melville’s italics.

16 Melville’s formulation.

17 Israel Potter: His Fifty Years of Exile, eds. Harrison Hayford, Hershel Parker and G. Thomas Tanselle, Evanston and Chicago, Northwestern University Press and the Newberry Library, 1982.

18 On the theme of revolution in The Scarlet Letter, see Helene Ah-Tune, “"The Custom-House” de Nathaniel Hawthorne: lieu de transmutation”, M. A. dissertation, Paris VIII University, 1986.

19 In Les Structures anthropologiques de l’imaginaire, Paris, Bordas, 1969, Gilbert Durand points to the relation existing between circularity and the mastering of time and space in most religions and myths, the circle being a symbol of temporal totality and renewal: “le cercle sera toujours symbole de la totalité temporelle et du recommencement” (p. 372). Mircea Eliade in Le Mythe de l’éternel retour, Paris, Gallimard, 1969, shows how a cyclical conception of time amounts in fact to abolishing time and history, since the universe never changes, no event is irreversible, no transformation ever final: “Le primitif, en conferant au temps une direction cyclique, annule son irreversibilite. Tout recommence a son debut à chaque instant. Le passe n’est que la préfiguration du futur. Aucun evenement n’est irreversible et aucune transformation n’est definitive.” (p. 107).

20 See Viola Sachs, The Game of Creation, editions de la Maison des Sciences de l’Homme, Paris, 1982 (pp. 75-84).

21 On the significance of 13, see Viola Sachs’s articles, “American Identity, the Bible and the Scripture of the New Cosmogony”, Social Science Information, Vol. 25, n° 2, 1986 (pp. 507-19) and "Colors and the American Literary Imagination: A Symbolic and Occult Interpretation”, Letterature d’America, Anno VI, n° 27, Primavera 1985 (pp. 49-64), published in 1988.

22 Arnold Rampersad in Melville’s Israel Potter: A Pilgrimage and Progress, Bowling Green, Ohio, Bowling Green University Popular Press, 1969, sees Israel Potter as a Christ-figure and interprets the meal with Benjamin Franklin as a light parody of the Last Supper.

23 A similar error in reckoning appears in Moby-Dick; or, The Whale, when Flask translates the sixteen dollar worth doubloon into ninehundred and sixty cigars at two cents a cigar. On the function of errors in Melville’s writing, see Viola Sachs, “Melville’s Black Whale”, Revue Française d’Etudes Américaines, N° 50, octobre 1991.

24 See Gershom Scholem, La Kabbale et sa symbolique, Paris, Payot, 1980, and especially Le Nom de Dieu et les symboles de Dieu dans la mystique juive, Paris, Cerf, 1988. Scholem mentions that some of the names of God contain 12, 42 or 72 letters.

Auteur

Université d’Orléans

© Presses universitaires de Vincennes, 1992

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