Whales, Judges, and Mortals: Human Will and Divine Destiny in Herman Melville's Moby-Dick and Cormac McCarthy's Blood Meridian

Open Access
Loane, Brian William
Area of Honors:
Bachelor of Arts
Document Type:
Thesis Supervisors:
  • Patrick G Cheney, Thesis Supervisor
  • Xiaoye You, Honors Advisor
  • Moby-Dick
  • Blood Meridian
  • Herman Melville
  • Cormac McCarthy
  • Epic Novels
  • Theology
  • Free-Will
  • Determinism
Scholars have noted Cormac McCarthy’s debt to Herman Melville, and they have recognized that Blood Meridian responds to Moby-Dick. As yet, nobody has studied exactly what links these two novels. I perform a comparative analysis, arguing that Blood Meridian offers a complementary view to Moby-Dick on the topic of the tension between free will and divine determinism. To support this argument, I focus on three areas of the novels which are intertextually related: the genre, the theology, and the denouement of each work. Firstly, regarding genre, both novels operate within the American epic tradition using four specific conventions of epic poetry. Secondly, the theology of Blood Meridian and Moby-Dick is Calvinist, as ideas such as absolute human debasement and predestination abound, but both novels swerve away from the specific doctrines of Calvin’s religious thought. Thirdly, Moby-Dick’s denouement, with the survival of Ishmael from the Pequod’s destruction by the divine white whale, holds onto a belief in the workings of free will, while transcendent determinism emerges triumphant with Judge Holden’s annihilation of the kid at the end of Blood Meridian. Finally, I suggest that this project is significant because it exposes a thread of continuity that exists within the American epic tradition.