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Mellville And Darwin’s Writings On The Galapagos Islands Essay, Research Paper

Mellville and Darwin’s Writings on the Galapagos Islands

During the nineteenth century, two prominent writers, Herman Mellville

and Charles Darwin both voyaged to the Galapagos islands off the coast of

Ecuador. Both of these individuals wrote descriptive passages about the

physical attributes and atmosphere of the Galapagos Islands. The passages vary

in specific content due to the intentions and interests of the respective

authors, even though the object described is the same. Charles Darwin, best

known for the theory of evolution, wrote for the purpose of science; Herman

Mellville, best known for Moby Dick, for the purpose of entertainment. The

audience intended, the tone of the author, and the terms used in description-

these all vary between the two passages. These passages exemplify that a single

subject, under varying conditions, can be seen and portrayed using differing

style and rhetoric.

Mellville’s passage uses allusions, analogies, and comparisons to well-

known entities to better illustrate the Galapagos Islands to the common reader.

Mellville assumes that the reader is unfamiliar with the Galapagos islands, or

“Encantadas,” as he chooses to refer to them as and paints a picture of the

Galapagos Islands using everyday terms. An important part of Mellville’s style

is that the he never directly describes the islands. “Take five-and-twenty heaps

of cinders dumped here and there in an outside city lot” is how Mellville’s

description of the Galapagos Islands begins. This reduces the Galapagos islands

from a large, nearly inconceivable place to objects of which most any reader

can create a mental picture. When Mellville describes the flora of the

Galapagos Islands, he compares it with drying “Syrian gourds,” aching for water.

Mellville discusses the solitude of the Galapagos Islands in comparison with

Greenland, a familiar place of solitude, the clear water in terms of Lake Erie,

and the “azure ice” in terms of malachite. ?They know not autumn? writes

Mellville, as if these ?heaps of cinder? are conscious of anything at all. All

these segments of Mellvilles passage are illustrations of how Mellville creates

a personal relationship between the Island and the reader.

Darwin uses scientific and specific words, gearing the passage for a

highly specialized audience. He centers his writing around the vegetation and

related matters; rarely straying from direct description or using comparisons.

Darwin in one of his few comparisons, relates the vegetation of the Galapagos

Islands with that of “the volcanic island of Fernando de Noronha,” unheard of by

all, except the most worldly. This shows that Darwin makes no investment in

the creation of an image in the minds of the common reader. Darwin writes of a

specific island, Chatham Island, and replaces Mellville’s heaps of cinders with

“A broken field of black basaltic lava,…crossed by great fissures.” Using

specifics, Darwin notes on the abundance of “Euphorbiaceae”; not only unheard of

by the common reader, but unpronounceable as well. This illustrates that the

intended readers of Darwin’s passage are perhaps botanists or biologists. As if

in a laboratory report or scientific analysis, Darwin describes the physical

element of the Galapagos Islands, rarely straying into emotions.

Varying themes found in the diction of the two passages creates

different overall impressions for the reader. In Darwin’s diction, one finds an

obvious theme, the repeated use of words involving heat. “Lava,” “sun-burnt,”

“dry,”"parched,” “heated,”sun” and “stove” are all used within the first four

sentences. It is not uncommon to find a subject-verb-complement structure only

slightly modified; ?Nothing could be less inviting than the first appearance.?

is a example of this. Primarily, Darwin uses mild variations on the simple

sentence structure; Mellville, varied structures. The third paragraph of

Mellville’s passage consists solely of one long sentence, formed by piling


?And as for solitariness; the great forests of the north, the expanses of

unnavigated waters, the Greenland icefields, are the profoundest of solitudes to

a human observer; still the magic of their changeable tides and seasons

mitigates their terror; because, though unvisited by men, those forests are

visited by the May; the remotest seas reflect stars even as Lake Erie does; and

in the clear air of a fine polar day, the irradiated azure ice shows beautifully

as malachite.?

This sentence, both in complexity and uniquity, displays the immense variations

in sentence structure at Mellville’s disposal.

The mood of Mellville’s entire passage is both sad and lonely; words

throughout the passage display this: “solitariness,” “solitudes,” “desolation,”

“sympathy,” “sorrows” and “sad.” Mellville awakens ?thoughts of sympathy? as he

compares The Encantadas with withering cities and disheveled cemeteries.

Towards the end, Mellville displays this superbly, ??Have mercy on me,’ the

wailing spirit of the Encantadas seems to cry.? With emotion and

personification, Mellville approaches the Galapagos Islands poetically. He

describes the terror as well as the solitude experienced on the islands; giving

the reader a sense of atmosphere.

In conclusion, these points demonstrate possible ways to relate a

subject to a reader using varied style and rhetoric. Such drastic differences

can be found elsewhere as well. The Bible outlines rules and restrictions for

its followers to live by; books of law, rules for all who live in the United

States. Even though there are major differences found between passages of

Darwin and Mellville, similar to those between the Bible and formal law books,

there are obvious similarities. Both passages talk of the scattered black hills

that form the Galapagos Islands. Both portray an uninviting island; Darwin

writes: “We fancied that even the bushes smelt unpleasantly.” The use of “even”

by Darwin implies that other objects on the island emit a stench as well. With a

similar outlook, Mellville writes: “ruin itself can work little more upon them.”

These passages, both written about the Galapagos Islands, have many significant

differences, as well as some similarities. They demonstrate contrasting ways to

perceive and relate a subject as well as the Bible and books of law.

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