Review of Pierre; Or the Ambiguities – A.M.

To say that I enjoyed reading Pierre; Or the Ambiguities would be much too simplistic. In fact, it’s hard for me to describe how I felt when reading Melville’s arguably least popular work. Reading the first assigned section of Melville’s Pierre transported me back to a class period of honors 10th grade English class when my teacher, Mrs. Fulford, informed us that we would be reading the first few chapters of “Great Expectations” by Charles Dickens for homework. As I struggled through the first chapter, I wasn’t sure if I loved or hated reading what seemed to me (and many others) as too many pages of narrative thoughts without a developing plot. What I did realize was that no matter how long-winded Dickens may have been, I was intrigued and ready to read so I could attempt to find meaning and relevance in the internal conflict and thoughts that were so frequently presented in the novel.

I noticed a similar feeling creeping back to me after finishing the first part of Pierre. Questions I often had to stop to ask myself when reading both Pierre and Great Expectations were “What’s the relevance of this chapter? Couldn’t the novel have been just as good and maybe even better without it?” Asking myself these questions made me realize that Pierre provided much more than it seemed to on the surface. To me, it seemed to provide a meaningful, inside glimpse into the existential, conflict-plagued thoughts of Melville himself. Believing in this made Pierre easier for me to read because I found it to be much deeper, meaningful, and open to interpretation. On the other hand, knowing this also allowed for too much hypothetical contemplation and analysis which made reading the book a not-so-timely activity.

In Pierre, Melville’s stream of conscious writing style can often make it difficult for readers to interpret and enjoy reading the novel. When reading the novel, it’s important to consider that the grammatically flawed sentences were strategically crafted by Melville himself… But why? My thought would be to show that he has control over his own works or so readers are forced to come up with their own ideas about how to make sense of the what seems to be incoherent sentence structure. Without being able to consider ideas such as these, reading Pierre would’ve been a drag for me.

Although a bit too ambiguous and hard to follow at times, I respect Melville for being able to write such a unique novel. I can truly say I have never read anything quite like it, but I almost think this book should be taught in a philosophy class in order for readers to truly be able grasp and get the most out of a book that encompasses as much depth and creativity as this one. Additionally, I think it would be helpful to preface just how slow the plot develops throughout the novel so readers will give more thought to Pierre’s long-winded, frequent commentary. I highly recommend this book if you enjoy hypothesizing and diving into the psyche of others and can, of course, handle all of the ambiguity.


Rating: 3.5/5 stars

Would/Would not recommend? Depends on the person asking