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
images:

“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