Pierre; or, The Ambiguities is certainly not a misnomer concerning the contents of this book. Melville clears the bar for ambiguous writing by leaps and bounds as he puts on display his commitment phobic style of writing. Any conflict constructed within Pierre is met with endless pages of introspective debate, followed by an unsatisfying conclusion that gives an answer to none of the readers questions. For example Pierre’s conflict with his mother was solved in four words “his mother was dead” (Book XXI, Chapter II). Rather than continuing the dialogue between Pierre and his mother after her exiling of him, she was simply killed. Similarly, at the end of the book when the text is at a breaking point bringing up questions such as: Will Pierre choose Isabel and Lucy? Is Isabel even his sister? Or most importantly, will he reunite with his horses? In the midst of all these questions and many more Melville could not have picked a more abrupt murder-suicide ending to leave his readers wondering. Whether it was Melville’s predilection to force his reader to fill in blanks or if he thought his reader would relish the ambiguity is likewise unclear.
I would be remiss if I did not state that there was one aspect of Pierre that was far from ambiguous. That one aspect was the hypersexual tendencies displayed by Pierre displayed throughout the book. Even though this may not be the most inspired debate which can be brought up after a reading of Pierre, I do believe it plays into the media we consume today. Every television show or movie we see accentuates relationship conflicts often aimed to parallel those we experience in our own lives. Which brings into question Melville’s choice of a sexually questionable character that was dissimilar and often repelled the readers of his time. It is possible he thought everyone was having the same issues that he was having with Hawthorne, although it still leaves several of his other deviant relationships like that with his sister or horses unexplained.
Looking back holistically this was not the worst book I have ever read. A condensed plot with far fewer digressions and some unambiguous conclusions by Melville, I believe would actually prove to be a pretty intriguing plot to most readers today. Melville successfully brought to light some relational conflicts like that of calling his mother “sister”, which we do not see even in our society today. In addition, the Lucy and Isabel conflict had me on pins and needles until the end when Melville ultimately disappointed me with a cop out of an ending. I believe it was stated in class that Moby Dick has an abridged version which cuts out a lot the seemingly meaningless content. If Pierre were to have an abridged version I would suggest it to someone, although I would be afraid it would be under 100 pages.
How I envision a conversation with Melville today:
Me: Coke or Pepsi?
Melville: *Writes 500 pages*