Herman Melville's desert phase: Symbols of isolation in the Piazza Tales
Archer, Carolyn Cahoon
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To the devotee of Herman Melville, the prosaic, aged, a nd barren images of his post-meridian fictions are as i n t r i guing as the vibrant, green, and fertile symbols of his earli est writings. Much of the power, beauty, and appeal of the Piazza Tales, Melville's one collection of short stories, emanates from the graphic chiaroscuro of its forlornly painted images. The symbolism of decay in references to "Abandoned cemeteries of long ago, old cities by piecemeal tumbl i ng to their ruin"; tortoises "black as widower's weeds" with "furry greenness mantling . their shattered shells"; the sea, gray "like waved lead that has cooled and set in the smelter's mould"; and isles "like split Syrian gourds left withering in the sun, cracked by an everlasting drought beneath a torrid sky111 enhances his tales with an aura of hop e lessness characteristic of the works which follow Moby Dick.