The Other Melville (Professor Samuel Otter, English 190)

Herman Melville

Professor's Welcome


Samuel OtterThe English Department welcomes you to “The Other Melville,” and I look forward to meeting you via Zoom and to talking about Melville’s fiction.

Samuel Otter

Course Description

Most readers know the works of Herman Melville through his now-famous Moby-Dick. But Melville wrote a range of compelling fiction and poetry before and after Moby-Dick. The “Read Along with Berkley English” component of this course will take up three crucial and resonant works of fiction: his first book Typee (a novel of South Seas adventure), his short story “Bartleby” (about the relationship between a lawyer and his refractory clerk) and one of his last works, the novella Billy Budd, Sailor (a nautical tragedy).

Go here to see the course-description page on our website.

Monthly Readings


Discussion questions:

1. Why is Claggart so hostile toward Billy? (The narrator—himself an elusive character—offers some reflections on this topic in sections 11-13.)

2. Why does Billy strike Claggart (section 19)?

3. How do you evaluate Captain Vere’s conduct in the drumhead court section of the novella (section 21)?


Discussion questions:

1. Why does Bartleby resist? What does Bartleby resist?

2. What is the difference between the statements “I prefer not to” (which with variations is Bartleby’s refrain) and “no”?

3. How do you evaluate the narrator’s conduct toward Bartleby? Why does the narrator tell the story of Bartleby?

Please join us for office hours on March 29th, 5-6 pm.


  • Typee
Discussion questions:

1. At the end of the “Preface,” the author writes about the events in the book that “He has stated such matters just as they occurred, and leaves everyone to form his own opinion concerning them; trusting that his anxious desire to speak the unvarnished truth will gain for him the confidence of his readers.” Where does the “truth” seem unvarnished and varnished to you? What kind of “confidence” do you have or not have in the narrative?

2. Why does the narrator jump ship early in the narrative? Why does he flee the island of Nuku Hiva later in the narrative?

3. What surprised you about the narrator’s portrayal of the Marquesan islanders? What disturbed you?