The Dirty Work of a Telltale: Narrative Ethics in Melville's The Confidence-Man and Billy Budd
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In Melville's final two works of fiction, The Confidence-Man and Billy Budd, narration itself is presented as an ethical act. Drawing primarily on the theory of Emmanuel Levinas, this thesis explores the ethical dynamics of intersubjective narrative exchanges as they are portrayed in these novels. Both novels depict unethical exchanges in which characters attempt to narrate accounts of their interlocutors in such a way as to render the alterity of these others comprehensible. This model of narration is based on an ideological confidence in self-sufficiency that precludes ethical communication. Against this violent mode of narration, Melville's ironic narrative technique in these novels suggests a model of ethical narration that maintains the alterity of the other and appeals for communication with a plurality of other voices.