AP Literature and Composition
22 January 2018
Otherness and Racial Fixation in Moby Dick and Heart of Darkness
The term otherness, by definition, is described as the quality or fact of being different.
Apart from its generic elucidation, otherness is commonly used in literature to depict an inferior
or distinct kind. Authors use this idea in order to imply an underlying message or theme in their
works. However, it is not abstract. It is an elusive feature of verbal construct that can be used in
The ideas of racial fixation and otherness go hand in hand in literature. While otherness is
used to simply divide a type or being apart from another, racial fixation can also be used to
portray a certain race. Especially in postcolonial novels such as Moby Dick by Herman Melville
and Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad, these concepts are applied into the elements of each
plot. Melville and Conrad are able to similarly implement otherness and racial fixation as part of
their postcolonial themes in order to distinguish between the known “colonizers” and the
“colonized”. Additionally, the authors use these concepts in order to allegorically address the
racism of their time.
In literature, these concepts can be analyzed through the perception of the writer to
himself, the main character in the work, and the relation of the main character or narrator
towards others in the plot. In Moby Dick and Heart of Darkness, the concept of otherness can be
seen through each of these perceptions.
To begin, it is necessary to discuss how otherness is studied in Herman Melville’s Moby
Dick. The novel may appear to be about a crazed captain who scours the sea in order to purge it
of the white terror whale. However, the book is far less action as it is information through the
eyes of the narrator, Ishmael. The idea of the “other” is present throughout the book as shown
through Queequeg, a savage from a fictional pacific island, Daggoo, a harpooner on the ship who
is also considered a savage, and Old Fleecy, an old black man who cooks for the crew on the
ship. The Pequod is a floating babel of racial types, and the novel includes many surprises that
Melville makes us dive deep to identify.
Ishmael himself, when he first sees Queequeg, is absolutely terrified that the “cannibal”
will eat him. He says, “Ignorance is the parent of fear, and being completely nonplussed and
confounded about the stranger, I confess I was now as much afraid of him as if it was the devil
himself who had broken into my room at the dead of night” (Melville 30). Diction such as
“stranger” and “devil” set Queequeg apart from the narrator himself and portray him as different,
and therefore as the “other”. Not only does Melville create the illusion that Queequeg is unlike
the narrator, but he also physically depicts Queequeg’s race, where racial fixation is used.
Melville uses physical descriptions such as “unearthly...