Herman Melville: Universal Themes and Timeless Messages Herman Melville's writings have become an intricate part of American life. His novels and short stories are required reading for high school and college students. Moby Dick is recognized worldwide as one of the supreme achievements in American literature. Melville popularized the theme of man against a hostile environment, and dealt with many of the issues that still confront man""fear, isolation, and everyday survival. Unfortunately, Melville died thinking himself a failure as a writer. In the last years of his life, he worked as Inspector of Customs in New York, receiving a meager salary of four dollars a day to board incoming vessels and report any violations he found. He never could have imagined what a powerful influence his writings would have on future generations of readers and writers.
Melville's financial situation shaped his early life. Born into wealth, his father mismanaged his money and failed financially.
Melville, only thirteen when his father died, had to assume burdensome family debts. He tried many jobs, including banking, farming, clerking, and teaching. When he was seventeen, he decided to try to make his fortune at sea. Redburn is the story of Melville's first voyage, a voyage that brought intense physical ordeals, danger, brutality, and humiliation. This venture into the brutal life at sea left scars on him for life. He did, however, visit the exotic South Sea Islands, and he lived for a time with a Polynesian tribe, where he came to respect the harmony of their lives.
Melville's adventures at sea produced Typee, which made him famous overnight. Omoo, a tale about his adventures in the South Sea Islands, made him even more famous.
If he had continued writing such entertaining travel books, Melville probably could have enjoyed greater success and popularity.