Mystery of Moby Dick

Moby Dick tells the story of a former schoolteacher called Ishmael, who joins a whaling voyage after a severe bout of depression. He befriends Queequeq, a harpooner, and the two quickly become friends. The voyage they sign up for is on the Pequod.

They will be hunting sperm whales for three years, but their captain is Ahab, a strange man who isolates himself in his cabin. It is revealed he was attacked by a great, white whale called Moby Dick and lost his leg due to it. Hunting down the animal in Ahabs constant goal throughout, with Ishmael, Queequeq, and the rest of the crew along for the long, long ride. Ishmael is an unusual narrator, who often pauses the story and speaks of his own knowledge and experiences. He can be in a dire situation with his shipmates, or he can go off on a tangent about the biology of whales. Even still, the novel is filled with countless events, from discovering Ahab has secretly allowed an entirely different boat crew on board and having to endure typhoons, to watching the obsession with Moby Dick grow deeper and deeper into madness. The titular whale rarely shows itself, and its final appearance is towards the end of the journey, with one final battle between Ahab and Moby Dick. By the end of everything, Ishmael is left alone drifting in the ocean after losing against the sheer power of the whale. He is the lone survivor of the voyage and the only one who could tell the tale.

Moby Dick can be interpreted in a number of ways, but Daniel Paliwoda contemplates if the animal is a religious symbol. Paliwoda believes Moby Dick is a representation of a deity and religious conflict, whether the beings is benevolent or malevolent is up for debate. In his criticism, he remarks how drastically Ahabs life changed after encountering the whale, much like how a persons life shifts upon discovering faith in any religion. In a sense, and one aspect the author does not point out, Ahab resembles a faith in religion gone too far. His fascination with Moby Dick is understandable, but he becomes overly zealous and drags everyone in his crew along for his goal; it is one of the largest plot points in the book. He can think of little else, blinded by his own beliefs, and refuses to give in, even until his last breath. He cares more about Moby Dick than he does saving the people who has traveled with him for so long. With Moby Dick still alive, Ahab wonders how he can live his life. Having been crippled by the whale, Ahab prefers not to be in life for anything else but to seek revenge. Everything in life irritates him because it dulls and numbs his purpose. He has no need of anything that does not bring him closer to killing the white whale, notes Paliwoda. In the same vein, the albino whale is barely in the story; it is constantly talked about by the other characters, and its name is the title of the book, yet it refuses to show itself. It resembles God, a being that exists in the minds of many, yet invisible and hiding from a physical existence. Its fury shows when it finally appears. However, it can also be argued that Moby Dick is more akin to the Devil, tempting Ahab until he reaches his watery demise. It torments the captains mind endlessly, plaguing every single thought he has; it brings an otherwise ordinary person into a deep, relentless sin. Ahab himself mentions he does not sleep well, and when he dreams, it is full of frenzies and clashing. While both sides have validity and evidence, it may be best to view Moby Dick as the idea of a deity, instead of a specific one. In either interpretation, it is something that transcends humanity and its actions and mindset are far beyond our thinking. The fact that it can be seen as either is a contradiction within itself and that is the point; the novel contains so many ideas and themes that a concrete explanation is impossible to find.

In Chris O. Cooks critique, he pondered on the contrast between the whale and his pursuer, Ahab. Ahab appears to only have one purpose throughout the entire novel, to battle Moby Dick again, and kill the great beast; for what reason, it is never fully explained if it is for revenge for his leg, or if he is unable to handle defeat. He has a definitive purpose in the story, acting as a driving force that leads the crew along. Interestingly, the whale holds this same push in the narrative, and yet it is far more ambiguous in nature. It does not have a clear meaning or goal, remaining a mystery until the last word in the novel. The titular whale is barely even present throughout the story, remaining elusive and physically appearing around three times. One is naturally tempted to regard Moby-Dick as allegory, even to the point of suspecting the literal element to be almost wholly arbitrary as merely the most convenient delivery system for whatever codified import the book intends. The novel dares us to do this, even as it exhorts us not to; it is, of course, for doing precisely this that Ahab is ruined: He is powerless to refrain from imposing significance onto that which is mere existence and nothing more Cook here points out the strangeness of the two, comparing how we share similarities with Ahab even if we do not realize it. Ahab chases after Moby Dick; a human chases after something on a grander scale than he can hope to grasp. The persistent captain was injured and punished for his lack of knowledge, in his attempt to grasp what he did not have: the whale who symbolizes the limits of what is comprehensible by man. Despite the heavy warning, Ahab does not cease his journey to claim Moby Dick for himself, and it ultimately leads to his watery demise. Moby Dick does not even directly kill him; the harpoon Ahab throws misses and the rope wraps itself tightly around his neck, bringing him under the surface. In other words, he brought danger upon himself; it did not come to him. The death being by his own hands only lends more foolishness upon him. But in the great Sperm Whale, this high and mightily god-like dignity inherent in the brow is so immensely amplified that gazing on it, in that full front view, you feel the Deity and the dread powers more forcibly than in beholding any other object in living nature (Melville 386). To make the creature even more enigmatic, there are bizarre hieroglyphics upon its head that no one can translate. Cook even notes how the novels genre, difficult to pinpoint, adds to its charm and mysteriousness. It contains countless different elements that suggest it is an epic, a tragedy, a transcendentalist work, an adventure novel, or even a horror story. Melville likely delighted in his experimental writing, wishing it to be an amalgamation. The author ends his article with a devoid, yet truthful sentiment about the boundaries humans cannot cross: After all the prophecy has been fulfilled, Ishmael, lone survivor of the Pequod, floats to his eventual rescue on the empty coffin of his friend Queequeg. But those who try to find a moral explanation for Ishmael’s survival will be stymied, as, once again, the answer is devoid of significance: Ishmael does not survive because of anything; rather, he is the narrator because he survived had he not, then someone else, or no-one at all, would be telling the story. It has been said that the function of the epic is to parallel and accordingly, assign meaning to the very fact of human existence. Moby-Dick, in the end, assigns to life the most terrifying possible explanation: utter chance (Cook). Ishmael did not earn his survival, not by skill or good works or courage; instead, he was the last one left alive because that was merely how it worked out in the end. He is not the chosen hero or the only one who can defeat the whale. He is a mortal man who could have easily died along with his shipmates and captain.

In contrast to pondering Ahab and the whale, April Gentry discusses how Ishmael regards the beast. Ironically enough, he tells the reader to not read too much into the story and not to mistake it for an allegory; however, we cannot help but to do so. Ishmael himself is uncertain of what the great beast is a symbol of, as he considers how white is both a pure and feared color. He speaks of how it has always been holy and revered, And though in other mortal sympathies and symbolizings, this same hue is made the emblem of many touching, noble things-the innocence of brides, the benignity of age; though among the Red Men of America the giving of the white belt of wampum was the deepest pledge of honor (Melville 208). However, he does consider the negative connotations of the color: This elusive quality it is, which causes the thought of whiteness, when divorced more kindly associations, and coupled with any object terrible in itself, to heighten that terror to its further bounds. Witness the white bear of the poles, and the white shark of the tropics; what but their smooth, flaky whiteness makes the transcendent horrors they are? (Melville 209). He goes back and forth, contemplating various views and aspects, musing that it can be frightening due to lack of warmth and coldness, yet acknowledges that it is a mystic, divine color. Though, by the end, he does not know what is correct, just like many of us. He does not know what the whale is or what is it supposed to mean, but it just is what it is. Chapter 99, The Doubloon, is another example of how one singular item can be viewed in so many ways. Ahab studies a gold doubloon, pondering on what the inscriptions may represent. Ahab sees pride and structures in the coin: Theres something ever egotistical in mountain-tops and towers, and all other grand and lofty things; look here, -three peaks as proud as Lucifer (Melville 480). Yet, Stubb believes the symbols are the various signs of the zodiac, while Flask does not care and sees it as simple money to purchase cigars with; no one on the ship can reach an agreement on its meaning. It is commentary on how no matter how strong and detailed an argument is, people will always disagree and see it in a completely different light; additionally, it can also be commentary on how critics search for meaning in every aspect of a story, even if there is none to be found. The article continues on to state the same sentiment: Pip’s initial response to the coin, “”I look, you look, he looks; we look, ye look, they look,”” has been taken by many critics as Melville’s statement on the scene itself and on the issue of interpretation in general. Everyone looks, and sees what he will, says April Gentry. It is a bizarre paradox, but one that humans must confront again and again. Moby Dick is everything we lack, and yet in both the book and outside of it, the whale is still judged and viewed by mortal eyes as we search for meaning in its existence.

Moby Dick is a book filled with countless possible themes and symbols, but the white whale is perhaps the most mysterious and intriguing. The whales ephemeral and otherworldly nature represents mans limited knowledge and wisdom, and in that same sense, can be a symbol for infinite possibilities. In a paradoxical way, the whales endless interpretations prove our restrained knowledge, as we are unable to identify it as something we do not know. The reason many interpretations often are opposites of each other is because, to us, all we can see is contradictions within something we do not understand. Like the concept of God and Satan, Moby Dick is beyond human comprehension, holding power that we can only strive to attain and driving us mad if taken too far. Mankind must make do with what it can. Rather than claiming the white whale represents the Christian God or the Christian Devil, it is more proper to say that it represents the concept of a god: an ephemeral being who knows everything and is everywhere at once. Melville did not intend for the whale to represent one specific aspect, rather hold the potential for countless interpretations; in this sense, he reminds us of how human we truly are.

“Moby Dick” by Herman Melville

Herman Melville began working on his novel Moby Dick in 1850, intending to write a report about the whaling voyages. In Moby-Dick, the story revolves around young Ishmael. Ishmael sacrificed his life to find the whale who he lost his leg to.

He forces his men to help find Moby Dick, the Great White Whale. He is hopeless to find him, because he is hoping to get revenge. Melville’s use of symbols like Moby Dick, Doubloon, and the coffin, helps the reader explore the theme of good vs evil. To do this he uses literary devices to accomplish the exploration of the theme.

In the novel Melville uses a vast amount of symbols in search for a true explanation of good vs evil, his relationship and his fate with god. One symbol Melville uses, is Moby-Dick. The white whale is associated with the theme, good vs evil. In this case he would represent evil. The whale symbolizes opposition to Ahab and mystery. The whale may represent the limits of man to control this wildness of the natural world. One example of how the author uses Moby Dick as a symbol is when he says Its a white whale I say a white whale. Skin your eyes for him, men; look sharp for white water; if ye see but a bubble, sing out.(Melville). This quote shows that the captain wanted to get revenge to the Whale. To show how Ishmael will get revenge he uses foreshadowing. This indicates how he was planning on getting revenge.

One other symbol used would be the doubloon. Ahab offers his crew members the reward of the doubloon if they spy Moby Dick. The doubloon, symbolizes the act of drawing everyone into the search of Moby Dick. By using this coin to get everyone into finding Moby Dick, it motivates them to all help for the search of the whale. The coin represents the stable center of the ship that endanger of being destroyed. During the story, Melville shows what he uses the coin for by saying I was one of that crew; my shouts had gone up with the rest;my oath had been welded with theirs; and stronger I shouted, and more did I hammer and clinch my oath, because of the dread in my soul, With greedy ears I learned the history of that murderous monster against whom I and all the others had taken our oath of violence and revenge(Melville). This shows that the crew members were eager to be the one to get the coin. Melville’s use of diction shows that he convinced his crew to help him get revenge on the white whale, which helps show the theme altogether.

Along with the whale and coin, another symbol would be Queequegs coffin. This symbolizes life and death. Queequeg built the coffin when he is was ill, but when he recovers, he has no use for it, so it becomes a chest to hold his belongings and an emblem of his will to live. The coffin further comes to symbolize life. By the end of the story, the coffin is what keeps Ishmael the only one alive. Melville foreshadows imminent death for Ahab employing the coffin imagery. In the novel when it says,?I have forgotten to mention that, in many things, Queequeg placed great confidence in the excellence of Yojos judgment and surprising forecast of things; and cherished Yojo with considerable esteem, as a rather good sort of god (Melville). This shows that the theme good vs evil. Melville uses allusions to show how the coffin is a good thing in the novel, because it’s keeping people living.

Moby Dick is a story of adventure and determination. To sum it all up, Ahab’s obsession with the white whale to get revenge fails. To show good vs evil, Melville used literary devices to show symbolism. By using the whale, doubloon, and the coffin as symbols the reader was able to explore the theme, good vs evil. Although in the novel, the focus has been shifted to the dangers of seeing things from only one point of view and to the struggle between good and evil, we are able to understand the exploration of the theme.

Herman Melville’s “Moby Dick”: The Understanding of The White Whale

The perception of the white whale, Moby Dick, in Herman Melville’s Moby Dick conveys a message that becomes specific to the reader. The profundity of the white whale, when taken into closer consideration, can embody several meanings that bring depth and further understanding of what the author is attempting to portray. In many cases, Melville introduces Moby Dick in such a manner that it becomes open for interpretation by the reader.

There is such an instance where the whale can represent the text itself due to its complexity and structure of which it is composed throughout the narrative. The reader can sense the feeling of frustration regarding the intricate textual structure containing several hidden meanings in relevance to the whalers’ struggles for encountering the white whale and obtaining its ever so precious oil. In addition, the image of oneself can be interpreted as belonging to the white whale. This is discovered while the whalers ultimately see themselves in Moby Dick and witness the darkness of their soul within. Essentially, the significance of the white whale can denote an assorted amount of connotations and is perceived as a multivalent representation capable of exemplifying diverse symbolic implications.


  • 1 The Text Itself
  • 2 Mirror For The Self

The Text Itself

What may seem to be the simplest literary structure, the story of a journey, as seen in Melville’s narrative, Moby Dick, is turned into an elaborate approach to incorporate various significant suggestions that are tied to the white whale. Melville attempts to communicate the feelings such of a man at sea hunting for the white whale and the valuable oil it possesses. The author goes at this by creating and diving into sometimes lengthy sentences that can be found rather unclear as to how they are constructed and for extracting a sense of what he is trying to bring into the novel. Certainly, when the sense of his descriptions come forward, they become open for interpretation.

Found at the beginning, Melville starts the narrative with a simple, “Call me Ishmael.” (Melville 3) this opening is short and to the point. He directly follows that with, “Some years ago—never mind how long precisely—having little or no money in my purse, and nothing particular to interest me on shore, I thought I would sail a little and see the watery part of the world.” (Melville 3). Instantly, the distinction between the two styles utilized by the author can be recognized based on the general size of the sentence. In addition to length, the use of detail is very much increased to pronounce the main idea. He goes into such detail by creating a list of features that consecutively become more minuscule in terms of how one would regularly perceive them, but significant in the form of their contribution to the style of literature. The use of this style is intended to make the audience stumble and repeat sentences just as a whaler at sea would strive to find Moby Dick and prove himself worthy.

The white whale, when mentioned in the novel, is referred, mostly, as an object that exists, but must be found and claimed for it lies within the immense sea that drives the difficulty to ultimately locate it. When “There she blows!—there she blows! A hump like a snow-hill! It is Moby Dick!” (Melville 595) is shouted from the whaling ship, the eagerness and excitement are demonstrated solely in the action of yelling it at the top of the lungs for every crew member on board to be aware that, after all the hunting and tracking of the white whale, it has finally been found. It gives an aspect of immediate thrill due to the distress and risk that was experienced to reach a certain point in time of spotting the white whale. The same can be said for the text in Melville’s Moby Dick itself.

It is the moment when fictional Moby Dick becomes one with the physical text that creates such frustration for the reader. The white whale is embodying the text and the moment it becomes difficult to understand, or read, is that of the whaler’s struggle to pinpoint Moby Dick’s location in the unexplored seas of the world. When Melville seeks to produce frustration to slip or cause confusion in the reader’s mind by stringing a sequence of details in the form of a list, he is defining the white whale. It represents frustration and anguish that comes along the journey of whaling. Herman Melville provides the best experience of whaling within the text as the audience attempts to find and claim Moby Dick in the hunt for the valuable meanings of his interpretations that are embodied by the white whale, Moby Dick.

Mirror For The Self

The whale serves as a mirror for human nature and directly depicts the relation between man and whale. Throughout the entire narrative, the whale is perceived as evil and a beast that must be killed due to its darkness. Also, the whalers which we all know go out to sea with a passion for its oil and are too seen with a darker side, because they crave the challenge of finding the whale and take joy in its butchering. These whalers, however, don’t make themselves aware of such action as being a dark or homicidal one. The act of killing the whale for its oil is seen regular for its setting in time. There is a point, nevertheless, that proves how the white whale, that is perceived as a killer and beast, is turned into what is a caring and loving animal, but most importantly it is seen through the eyes of the whaler, who typically sees it as evil, therefore encounters himself in the white whale and the white whale embodies the human nature.

When the whales approach, “Like household dogs they came snuffling round us, right up to our gunwales, and touching them; till it almost seemed that some spell had suddenly domesticated them. Queequeg patted their foreheads” (Melville 423), they whalers do not attack or attempt to kill them for their oil, even though they are baby whales and most likely easier to kill than a fully grown one. They do not attack because they feel empathy towards the whale. Much like Queequeg pats the whale on the head, one would pat a baby on back, because that is what these are, baby whales, seen as small relatable humans to the whalers who are not concerned with killing them at all.

When the whalers looked to the sea after having encountered the harmless baby whales they saw that “suspended in those watery vaults, floated the forms of the nursing mothers of the whales, and those that by their enormous girth seemed shortly to become mothers. The lake, as I have hinted, was to a considerable depth exceedingly transparent; and as human infants while suckling will calmly and fixedly gaze away from the breast, as if leading two different lives at the time; and while yet drawing mortal nourishment be still spiritually feasting upon some unearthly reminiscence;—even so did the young of these whales seem looking up towards us; but not at us, as if we were but a bit of Gulf-weed in their new-born sight.” (Melville 423). Melville notes that a baby whale will gaze and stare, even with its newborn eyesight, just as a human baby will look up in search for another pair of eyes to stare into. The pregnant whales are compared to women expecting soon to be mothers and gives a great deal of sense to just how similar the great beast, known as the whale, is to oneself because it is an equal representation of human nature. The instant the whale is interpreted as the human, the whale embodies the human and therefore the symbol of purity and evil intertwine to create a new purpose.

The protagonist and antagonist have now almost completely changed positions where the evil of the whale and the horrible speculation that comes along with it can be seen with oneself. The whaler can reflect into himself and see the dark and gruesome work that he has done for the treasure that they claim to be the oil of the well-known sperm whale by traveling across the sea, but in that moment of him gazing into the eyes of the baby whale, he sees the light of the innocent within where he finds that there lies no corruption and decides not to inflict pain because it is pure and unmarked by the evil actions of the whaler. In a certain manner, the whaler finds himself within that baby whale because he considers himself pure and virtuous in comparison to the wicked Moby Dick. The concept of human nature includes that humans are known to be well civilized and act rationally unlike wild animals.

The whale, typically known as the immoral figure in the narrative, is changed here because it is replaced with the characteristics of the whaler which is seen as the complete opposite and the same is said for the whaler. If the whaler sees himself in the whale, that signifies that he truly has a dark soul while the whale embodies a counterfeit sort of purity that is interpreted by the whaler himself in the result of his ignorance and supposed absence of wickedness. The whaler is attempting to escape his darkness and the author, Herman Melville, is giving him a fake sense of purity by allowing the innocent whale to become the symbol of the whaler

The whale in Melville’s Moby Dick is a powerful representation of a symbol that can efficiently possess numerous possible interpretations as long as the reader is willing and able to produce them throughout the text. The white whale can be interpreted as, the text, Moby Dick itself and it can embody the mirror of oneself. These are solely a couple of examples for the interpretations of the whale that have been demonstrated. Melville’s inclusion of compact details packed within large sentences and, in contrast, short sentences with very direct messages entail the embodiment of the text itself in the white whale known as Moby Dick. When mirroring oneself into the whale, Melville uses the affection of love, which is the most human-like remark that could be used in the sense of nursing mothers for a comparison between the loving human as we know it and the despicable Moby Dick. Ultimately, Moby Dick’s white whale, when made possible by the reader, can be interpreted in a constant amount of appearances that are clear enough for the audience to decide exactly which form is suitable for their understanding in the connotation of, Moby Dick, the white whale.

Ishmael in Herman Melville’s “Moby-Dick”

In Herman Melville’s Moby-Dick, Ishmael asserts himself as both the narrator and the central consciousness of the novel by chronicling his account of the Pequod’s final voyage. As he recounts the struggles of his physical journey, Ishmael shows that he has also survived a spiritual journey to find his sense of self. By retelling and analyzing his time as a crewmember of the Pequod, Ishmael continues to try to understand the purpose behind his solitary existence and eventually embraces it as a part of God’s mysterious Providence.

Ishmael sees himself as an exile of the world who is doomed to drift without a home to return to. He begins his narration by naming himself after a Biblical figure: “Call me Ishmael” (Melville 18). The lack of last name suggests that like Abraham’s first and lesser loved son, Ishmael has been un-rooted and thrown out of his family. He considers himself to be an orphan, although he uses the word only at the conclusion of his journey when he is left as the sole survivor: “It was the devious-cruising Rachel… only found another orphan” (427). This sentiment demonstrates the loss he has experienced through the Pequod’s shipwreck and the affinity he felt for its crew. In contrast, the only family member who describes in his narration is his “stepmother who, somehow or other, was all the time whipping me, or sending me to bed supperless,” and who isolates Ishmael even within his house (37). This forced physical separation is what prevents him from regarding the house he grew up in as home and which keeps him drifting without a sense of belonging. This loneliness develops into isolation, which causes Ishmael to separate himself from others and observe them from a distance. This allows him to see beyond conventional beliefs and question societal norms, but also deepens his isolation.

This isolation continues to trouble Ishmael throughout the years, to the extent that he considers it deadly. When his stepmother punishes him by sending him to bed, he describes that he “lay there dismally…before I could hope for resurrection,” comparing the isolation to death (37). He emphasizes how much he hates this solitary confinement by begging for any other punishment but burial in bed, because the maddening boredom that comes from isolation causes him to feel like dying a painful, spiritual death. This lonely boredom causes him to view his life as being so meaningless that he feels himself driven to the breaking point, even to the point of considering suicide, “involuntarily pausing before coffin warehouses, and bringing up the rear of every funeral” he encounters (18). But instead of giving in to this impulse, he chooses to go to sea as a “substitute for pistol and ball” (18). This voyage onto the water symbolizes his desire to revive himself and to get back in touch with himself and humanity. He seeks an end to his perceived isolation and believes that he may do so on the water, where “here they all unite” (19). To Ishmael, the attraction to water is one of the universal characteristics of men, representing their common desire to see meaning and purpose in the reflections they cast, and to catch the “ungraspable phantom of life” that eludes us all (20). As he observes that these “water-gazers” spiritually unite, he realizes that the sea unites people even in their most isolated moments (43). This idea is further emphasized when he sees people looking at the gravestones in the chapel unite through the “silent grief” that “were insular and incommunicable,” caused by the sense of vulnerability and mortality of the sailors at sea (43). Once he joins the Pequod, he proclaims “I, Ishmael, was one of that crew; my shouts had gone up with the rest; my oath had been welded with theirs” (152). Unlike on land, where Ishmael drifts without aligning himself to anyone or any cause, he becomes committed to Ahab’s quest, and this becomes his purpose for the duration of the voyage.

Captain Ahab’s greatest influence over Ishmael does not result from direct interaction, but rather from Ishmael’s observations of Ahab’s struggles against himself and against the world. Ishmael clearly sees that Ahab’s obsession with Moby Dick has driven him to madness, and that he believes that control over this madness is beyond the boundaries of his free will. When Ahab questions “Is Ahab, Arab? Is it I, God, or who, that lifts this arm?” Ishmael sees Ahab’s confusion in his identity, between the Ahab who desires to return to his family and the Ahab who is destined to spend his life chasing Moby Dick (406). This concept of free will against fate becomes an important theme in Ishmael’s narrative. As Ahab gets closer to Moby Dick, he becomes completely consumed by the idea of destroying all evil through Moby Dick, allowing Fate to take over his free will, as Ahab concludes that his identity is the “Fates’ lieutenant” who “act under orders,” and not his free will (418). Ishmael, who observes the tangling of free will and fate through Ahab, begins to understand that God’s will comes in the form of “springs and motives which being cunningly presented to me induced me to set about performing the part I did, besides cajoling me into the delusion that it was a choice resulting from my own unbiased freewill and discriminating judgment” (22). In short, while people may believe they act on their own accord, these actions are actually predetermined by God.

Ahab’s comparison of life to a play also resonates with Ishmael. When he recalls that Ahab said, “This whole act’s immutably decreed. ‘Twas rehearsed by thee and me a billion years before this ocean rolled” Ishmael sees that Ahab believes that his endless quest for revenge against Moby Dick was preordained (418). This causes Ishmael to consider his own role in the voyage, perceiving that “my going on this whaling voyage, formed part of the grand programme of Providence that was drawn up a long time ago” and “those stage managers, the Fates, put me down for this shabby part of a whaling voyage” (22, 418). Although he sees his own role as a “shabby” one and compares himself to others who were cast for “magnificent roles in high tragedies” and “short and easy parts in genteel comedies”, he accepts his fate, and in doing so, he shows that he understands that is life is not without meaning. Even the boredom and loneliness that has constantly plagued him now take the form as catalysts for his joining the Pequod. As Ishmael begins considering the role of God’s Providence in his life, he is still unable to grasp its true significance. However, by looking back at the series of decisions it took for him to join the Pequod, Ishmael begins to understand “the springs and motives which… induced me to set about performing the part I did,” that even his loneliness and isolation has a greater end as a part of the God’s plan (22).

In fact, fate, destiny, and Providence go beyond the boundaries of Christianity for Ishmael and allows him to eventually see and treat Queequeg without prejudice. Although he, like most of his compatriots, was initially terrified of Queequeg, the friendly affection that he shows to Ishmael wins him over. After observing Queequeg’s character and noting that this supposed savage seemed to “have an innate sense of delicacy” and proved “essentially polite”, Ishmael compares him with the Christians he has known (38). He remarks that “Christian kindness has proved but hollow courtesy” and questions who is truly the more civilized (56). Eventually, he concludes that religious worship comes in the form of obeying the will of God, and that what God essentially requires of men is “to do to my fellow man what I would have my fellow man do to me” (57). This allows him to realize that like Ishmael, Queequeg craves understanding and acceptance which Ishmael decides to give. In this way, it is Ishmael’s loneliness and his craving for human connection that allow him to be open minded about living so closely with a cannibalistic heathen. Without any special attachments to Western religion, culture, or societal norms, Ishmael sees beyond Queequeg’s fierce appearance and appreciate his humanity and compassion. Queequeg reciprocates these feelings, and it is the coffin he builds that eventually saves Ishmael’s life.

Ishmael suggests that God facilitated his intimacy with Queequeg so that he could emerge as the sole survivor of the Pequod. In hindsight, Ishmael believes he was “mysteriously drawn towards” Queequeg and that the bond between them goes beyond human comprehension (56). He frequently alludes to marriage, describing their relationship as one that “naught but death should part us twain” and marveling that “he would gladly die for me” (38, 56). The strength of their bond surprises even Ishmael, and in Queequeg, he finally find the closest thing to familial love that he has ever experienced. Furthermore, Ishmael describes how Queequeg’s coffin “liberated by reason of its cunning spring…the coffin life-buoy…floated by my side” it transforms from a container of death to a chance at resurrection ? the same sort of resurrection that Ishmael desired from his cruel exile to bed during his childhood (427). To Ishmael, Queequeg’s death allowed Ishmael to live, and this sacrifice gives his lonely existence value and significance.

By the time he finishes retelling his account, Ishmael has grown from a lonely and restless young man to a mature man who now understands that he has a place in God’s Providence. He sees that his isolation has shaped him into an individual capable of observing and assessing situations objectively, and it has prepared him to fulfill God’s plan that he live to retell his narrative. However, just as Ahab fell to his demise without fulfilling his quest to master Moby Dick, Ishmael cannot fully understand the mysteries of his existence while he remains alive (20). Although Ishmael now recognizes that, this reflection of self in the water that “is the key to it all” (20) still compels him to continue searching for further meaning, leading to the retelling and revisiting of his journey.

Moby Dick and the Whaling Industry

Herman Melville uses the perils of whaling to develop his idea of revenge in his well-written book, Moby Dick. Melville went through many experiences growing up such as being in the navy, whaling, and then being held captive by cannibals (gateway proquest). When he returned home from his journeys he began to write about his previous experiences.

Melville was an exceptional author; writing many books during his lifetime. At the time Moby Dick (one of Melvilles most popular books) was being written, America was trying to establish its nationality and international identity (novels for students, encyclopedia). The country did this by establishing colonies and figuring out who can be allowed in America.

Melville keeps the reader on their toes with the way he changes the point of view several times. Ishmael is the narrator throughout the book and he is introduced in the beginning with a very famous line Call me Ishmael. He switches up the point of view in 2 different ways; first and third person. As he describes the events in his book, he uses his own thoughts and the thoughts and feelings of other characters in the book from an outside point of view. Without Ishmael there would be no story. He is a very different person in human nature, but as the narrator he is a very unique person. Then we have Ahab, he is described as a very mystical person because no one knows about him. But he was considered an ungodly, god-like person because he always thought ahead about everything. As soon as Moby Dick ate his leg, he immediately wanted revenge. He also has a white scar down his face from a thunderbolt. Some even say it runs down his whole body. Then we have Starbuck, he is Captain Ahabs chief mate. He was mainly the chief mate because of how skinny and limber he was. He was the only one that had the courage to stand up to his captain. Queequeg is the harpooner Ishmael met and had to room with him in the inn. Stubb is a humorous person. When he tells his men to do something he has a sarcastic tone so it doesnt feel like they are being bossed around. Pippin gets scared when they were on the way to get a whale and jumps out but luckily Stubb saves him.

As the story goes on you learn more about why Moby Dick is so important to these whaling voyagers. The very large white sperm whale has sunken so many ships and has so many scars and has killed many people. Ahab wants him so bad because he left a very big white scar on his face and ripped his leg off, but Ahab managed to leave his mark on the large whale.

While Moby Dick was being written, America was going through a wild period because they were trying to establish their identity both nationally and internationally. Transcendentalism, the idea that God was in this world as well as every individual, was the principle philosophical and religious view point. This was proposed by Ralph Waldo Emerson in his essay, Self- Reliance.

In the 1850s, whaling was a very unregulated business, American whalers were free to sail the open seas and hunt for whales in any waters. Barely a year after his return, Melville finished is manuscript on the semi- fictional novel based on his first travel to Marquesas. In the year that Moby Dick was being published, a whaler was sunk by a sperm whale in circumstances similar to that of the climax in this novel.

Herman Melville was born in New York City in 1819 to his parents Allan and Maria. Both of Melvilles grandfathers, Thomas Melville and Peter Gansevoort, were Revolutionary war heroes, which Herman Melville had great pride in. Melvilles family was very dedicated to their faith, in fact, nearly three weeks after Herman Melvilles birth, he was baptized at his home by a minister of the Southern Reform Dutch church.

Allan Melville sent all of his sons to the New York Male School. Unfortunately, Melville had to drop out of school at the age of fifteen and go to work due to the loss of his father. At the age of twenty, Melville started the beginning of his career on vessels. In one of his books, REDBUN, he describes his first voyage as both thrilling and harrowing.

In the middle of one of his voyages, Melville jumped ship at the Marquesas and lived there for a month among the cannibals. In this time, the natives capture him and held him captive in the valley of Typee. He was able to escape by boarding an Australian trade ship. This experience sparked a new novel called Typee, which he found great success in.

In 1851, one of Melvilles greatest novels was published, it was not immediately recognized, but as years went on it became more popular. Melville published many more novels after this, but he did not experience very much success. By the time of his death, September 28, 1891, Melvilles reputation declined greatly. The failure of his works led him to wonder if a book in a mans brain is better off than a book bound in calf- at any rate it is safer from criticism.

Herman Melville was a great author, his novels reflected his very adventurous lifestyle. One of his greatest successes Moby Dick, gives a great sense of excitement and adventure by changing up the points of view. As you can see, Melville had a semi rough child hood suffering losses in his family and having to go to work at an early age. Herman Melville uses the perils of whaling to develop his idea of revenge in his well-written book, Moby Dick.

The Theme Pride in “Moby Dick”

Throughout the novel, Moby Dick, by Herman Melville, the theme pride, or hubris, can be followed from the beginning to the end. It did not take long to see that Captain Ahab had a heart that was driven by revenge and because of that strong drive the Pequod was destroyed and all but one of the crew members. Ahabs sense of pride and longing to search for the White Whale, the Evil of the Earth, Moby Dick caused him to commit the ultimate sin, being prideful.

When Moby took Ahab’s leg, Ahabs life turned completely around but for the worse. Ahab had once lived what most would consider a normal life to a life full of revenge and turmoil. He believed he was doing good for the world but in all actuality, he became evil and twisted and ultimately turned his back on God by following a path that Satan himself would walk. This story started slowly at first and the twisted relationship between Ahab and Moby Dick was not very noticeable but as the book progressed the evil grew and the full presence of the devil could be felt and seen in each move that Ahab and Moby Dick were making.

Although one of Captain Ahabs drives was revenge, his pride was the death of him because of his infatuation with acquiring the accomplishment of killing Moby Dick, the white whale. Pride killed Captain Ahab. Herman Melville was an American novelist who was born in New York City on August 1st, 1819, to Allen and Maria Gansevoort Melvill (it wasnt until Marias husband’s death that they added an e to the name). When Herman was just a young child he fell ill to scarlet fever and his vision was left permanently impaired. He had a good life though because his father was a successful high-end importer and merchant. Although the family enjoyed a prosperous life, Allan had borrowed heavily to finance his business interests. In 1830 the family moved to Albany because Allan was attempting to branch into the fur trade but the business failed and the family’s fortune took a significant hit. After the sudden passing of his father and continued financial struggles with his family, Melville took to sailing with merchants for work. He enjoyed working on the ship, but did not dedicate himself to the sea immediately (Melville, Herman. Pullman Strikes Out Introduction, after the first time he sailed. He kept working in other ways to try to help his family. Because he never found the work he could enjoy, he returned to sailing with whalers. Once he returned home, his family was much more stable financially and they encouraged him to take up his passion for writing.

With their support, Herman recorded his tales of the South Seas and began to seek out a publisher (Melville, Herman. Pullman Strikes Out Introduction, He wrote two novels that were successful, Typee in 1846 and Omoo in 1847 but his subsequent book, Moby DIck (his masterpiece) in 1851 sold very poorly. Melville knew he had to keep working so he delivered a series of lectures throughout the late 1850s. The following decade Melville began a 20-year career as a customs inspector in New York City and he also turned his creative interests to poetry during this period and published a collection called Battle-Pieces and Aspects of the War in 1866. Finally, In 1876, he published the grand Clarel: A Poem and Pilgrimage in the Holy Land that was based on a previous trip to the region. Following his sudden death of an apparent heart attack in New York City in 1891, he posthumously came to be regarded as one of the great American writers. Before his death, he was working on a novel and although his popularity had vanished at that point, his books were reprinted and he slowly started becoming popular in the literary world. By the 1920s, Melville had become a well-known figure among readers and critics alike and his last novel was published in 1924 as Billy Budd, Sailor.

Today, we regard Herman Melville as one of America’s greatest writers, his masterpiece Moby-Dick adapted for the big screen in 1956. School reading lists still have Melvilles work and interest in his works spiked again in 2015 with the release of the Ron Howard-directed, In the Heart of the Sea, about the ill-fated voyage of the Essex. The novel, Moby Dick, was written in 1851 and tells the story of a sailor named Ishmael and his experience on a whaling ship. The novel was written during the Antebellum Period in the United States of America, a very chaotic time in American history. The Antebellum Period marks the years leading up to the Civil War. During the years leading up to the Civil war, there was a significant divide between races, where many of the Caucasians in America wanted to keep the African Americans enslaved. Many claimed that the Constitution of the United States sets out with the declaration that slaves are property(Secession Era Editorials Project. Furman: New Railroad Mileage, 1850-1860 (by Region), menu&%2Bsequence=dsmenu&location=%3E%2BDred%2BScott%2BDecision%2B) Being that the novel was written during the Antebellum Period, it could be argued that the white whale symbolized the inevitability of the monoculture of whiteness to devastate the nation (Kouroubetes, Michael Moby-Dick: From a Multi-genre, Multi-Cultural Perspective, IUSB Graduate Journal, /index.php/iusbgrj/article/download/22103/28057/).

Although pride can be seen in multiple characters, the character that pride follows mainly is Captain Ahab, the captain of the whaling ship Ishmael was on. Captain Ahabs character was formed in the image of the King Ahab in the bible. King Ahab in the bible was known for the evil he did in the sight of the Lord (1Kgs 16:30-33) (Eric Ziolkowski, “”Melvilles Ahab””, n.p. [cited 22 Nov 2018]. Online: https://www.bibleodyssey .org:443/people/related-articles/melvilles-ahab). Captain Ahabs enormous amount of pride is seen in his own quest to vanquish the white whale (Eric Ziolkowski, “”Melvilles Ahab””, n.p. [cited 22 Nov 2018]. Online: -articles/melvilles-ahab). Captain Ahab did not name himself (Melville 264). Although Ahab may seem arrogant because of how he placed himself on a pedestal, I believe this goes back to his pride. Ahab did not show his face for so long, only because he felt he was better than everyone because of his lifes accomplishments. He was, clearly, a veteran to the sea and he felt that made him better than everyone else. His position of authority and his ailment of missing a leg built upon his pride.

Ahab in all his thoughts and actions ever had in view the ultimate capture of Moby Dick (Melville 681). After Ahab showed himself, his fiery pride was quite evident in his actions and behavior. He felt such a strong need for revenge and had built a pride within himself based on his personal need to take down Moby Dick. He wanted to have the achievement of killing Moby Dick and he would not rest until that was accomplished. What ultimately builds such a strong case for pride in this quote is that he was not thinking what if I kill Moby Dick, he knew that he was going to do it. He felt that he was the king of the sea and nothing could stop him from defeating Moby Dick. In his fiery eyes of scorn and triumph, you then saw Ahab in all his fatal pride. (Melville 1663). What becomes apparent is that the ship was no longer being led with thought, Ahabs willpower and pride were leading it. Had he not had such a deep infatuation with killing Moby Dick, he would have survived, as would have the rest of his crew. He felt no remorse towards the lives of his crew being lost because he saw himself as superior.

Ahab seemed an independent lord (Melville 1717). The way Captain Ahab carried himself with his pride was evident to everyone on the ship. He made his superiority clear by leading the ship and his crew to their demise to fulfill what his pride yearned so deeply for. Ahab created an image of himself as an almighty being equal to God. As the theme pride is followed, it is apparent that it is extremely hazardous, and cost Ahab not only his life but his entire crews lives as well. Older people can sometimes be heard saying, Idle hands are the Devil’s tools,” and I think this can be applied to the novel because Ahab proved that “”The Devil will drive a man without a drive.”” While Ahab sat idly seeking revenge, the Devil planted seeds of pride within him which caused Ahab to become the evil man he was.

Symbolism, Themes, and Metaphors in “Moby Dick” by Herman Melville

The novel Moby Dick written by Herman Melville is very ambiguous and is full of symbolism, themes, and metaphors. The characters of the book resonate from the Bible and the novel begins with a Biblical quote from the book of Job. Moby Dick explains the relationship between human beings and others, the value of life, and a whaling lore.

The novel is told by Ishmael who divulges of a journey on the Pequod ship with Captain Ahab. Captain Ahab is the main protagonist of the story and is pursuing a whale; Moby Dick. Ishmael is on the quest to find the real meaning of life and thus follows life at sea. The whale, Moby Dick a great deal of chaos among the ship and is chased by several other ships when he is seen. Moby Dick is a novel that is rich in ironic themes. The purpose of this paper is to analyze some of the themes and characters from this novel.

Defiance is a theme that can be found pervasively in Moby Dick. Father Mapple, a former whale man and current preacher, prepares the reader to consider the theme of defiance through his sermon derived from Jonah and the Whale in Chapter 9. Jonah was called on by God to preach in Nineveh. Instead, he attempts to run away to another country where God does not rule. As Jonah tries to escape, his punishments become harsher and harsher. It later occurs to Jonah that God is everywhere. When Jonah is swallowed by a whale, he prays to God in its belly. He submits to preaching in Nineveh and only then does God bring Jonah to safety. Jonah later comes to learn that for one to follow God, one must lay aside their vanity and wishes to follow the will of God. Father Mapple states that for one to obey God, he should first disobey himself. The telling of Jonahs preaching is parallel to Ishmaels eventual whaling story where he is the lone survivor of the Pequods ship.

Captain Ahab is an ungodly man who shows defiance by fighting against Gods will and the rules of nature. After Starbucks suggested that it was blasphemous to seek revenge on Moby Dick for attacking him, Ahab states that he would even hit the sun if it insulted him, further illustrating his egotistic character. He wears his defiance proudly and does not worship or acknowledge any superior forces. The whale, Moby Dick is used symbolically to represent the regime that Ahab is fighting against. The leadership and experiences of Father Mapple implies that God himself is the pilot of the ships, further suggesting that the White Whale may be God in disguise. Ahab thinks of himself as equal to God and is obsessed with getting more recognition than he deserves. However, by defying God and its superior power, Ahab condemns himself to death.

Contrary to the theme of defiance, the theme of friendship is also prevalent in Moby Dick. This theme can be found through the friendship of Ishmael and Queequeg. Although the two are different in culture, religious tradition, and race, they manage to be unlikely friends.

The author uses words such as Christian/Heathen, savage/civilized and Black/White to further illustrate the differences between the two characters. As time goes by, the two become close and accept that diversity has its own positive possibilities. Queequeg and Ishmael continue to grow as they embrace change. They both recognize that by appreciating the similarities and differences of other cultures, they can learn a lot from each other. Furthermore, their respect for each others differences can be found when Queequeg attends services at Whalemans Chapel, even though he is not a Christian. Later in the story, Ishmael offers a sacrifice to Yojo, Queequegs idol and they both bond through sharing a tobacco pipe.

This comradeship is again experienced by the crew of the ship. Ishmael insinuates comradeship by working with the other mates. Stubb is among the exception of friendship on the ship. His role with Fleece, who is a black cook is intended to create humor but comes across as more of a lack of brotherhood. Ahab again, does not have an interest in friendship but fortunately comes across Pip who starts to get close to him. The friendship of Ishmael and Queequeg is later proven to be beneficial to Ishmael, as Queequeg indirectly saves his life through his coffin that floats on the surface of the water after the Pequod sinks. This provides Ishmael with a life buoy until the Rachel comes to his rescue.

The actions of the novel take place in a ship, therefore, the theme of duty is paramount. Father Mapple has a duty to God as a shepherd of people’s hearts. After Ahabs first disagreement with Starbuck concerning the mission of the ship, the crew regards Ahab as their overall leader. Later on during the voyage, the two confront each other again regarding the duties of the ship. Starbuck is a loyal servant to his authorities. He believes he has a duty to God, his employer, and to the captain of the ship. When Starbuck notices that oil is leaking from the barrels of the ship, he informs Ahab. Although it is expected that the captain of the ship stop the ship and concentrate on the safety of the whale oil, Ahab does not care about anything except his pursuit of Moby Dick. Ahabs only duty is to himself and his mission. Starbuck reminds the captain of the interests of the owner and their duties, but Ahab does not care. He believes he can follow his own goals by defying everything that comes across his path. Ahab points a firearm towards the firstmate and declares that the Pequod has only one captain. Although Starbuck has an opportunity to kill Ahab, he is overcome with his obligations towards God and his own family. His values lead him to reconsider taking Ahabs life and to serve him instead. Starbuck feels that he has a duty towards himself, God, and to common decency.

Obsession is another theme that is found present in Moby Dick. Ahabs obsession to kill Moby Dick can be seen countless times throughout the novel. Ahabs characteristics, his preparation and determination, and the prospect of revenge on Moby Dick is what leads to the eventual demise of Ahab. Ahabs perspective of the White Whale as a mysterious force of evil, further drives Ahabs obsession to conquer this evil by destroying the physical being of the whale. Ahab believes that by killing Moby Dick, he will be eradicated of evil and pits himself and humanity in an epic timeless struggle against the White Whale. It is not typical in whaling industries for captains to frequently risk themselves in pursuit of a whale, but Ahab challenges the White Whale despite everything. During the ritual that binds the crew together, Ahab proclaims God hunt us all, if we do not hunt Moby Dick to his death! He sees the White Whale as evidence of evil forces persecuting him instead of interpreting the loss of his leg as a consequence of his occupation. On his death bed, Ahab uses his last breath to curse the whale and its fate.

The theme of Death reveals itself at the end of Moby Dick but the foreshadowing of death can be found throughout the novel. When Ishmael first goes to the inn, he notices an oil painting, which is later determined to be a depiction of a whale attacking a ship. This painting is a foreshadowing of death as later events reveal the Pequod in a terrible storm under attack by a whale. Furthermore, the inns owners name is Coffin which portrays the theme of death at the beginning and at the end of the novel. Ahab is familiar and comfortable with the theme of death as he realistically knows that the mission can either end in a victory, or the deaths of many of his crew members.

Another occurrence of the theme of death are the prophecies of death heard throughout the voyage.Elijah anticipates a bad ending before the ship starts sailing. Gabriel foresees that Ahab will die underneath the sea. Fedellah tells Ahab the prophecy of his elaborate death, but Ahab thinks that it is unlikely that his death will happen at sea. He is foretold that he will be dismembered by a whale, but he proclaims he will be both the prophet and fulfiller of Moby Dicks destiny. All the predictions of Parsee anticipated death were fulfilled in ways that were not expected.

Another central theme to the novel is the limits of knowledge that a man can possess. The uncertainty of the crew about their fates and the crews doubt about their religious fate are parallel in a sense that there are limits to the knowledge that a can have. A prime example of the limits of knowledge is that each ship on sea must rely on encounters with other ships to get news and information. Captain Ahab only desires gams with ships whose captains have information about Moby Dick. When passing a ship with no information, Ahab ignores the boats.

Throughout the novel, Ishmael uses every subject he can to try and understand the important nature of the whale. He uses various systems of knowledge such as art and taxonomy but these detailed systems fail to give enough account to whaling. The various approaches used by Ishmael create a need for him to assert authority as a narrator with many references. However, by showing that a man is limited to information such as the depths of the ocean, this thereby proves that the knowledge of a human being is limited. The ways of Moby Dick cannot be predicted just like the ways of God cannot be predicted by man. Therefore, trying to interpret these ways like Ahab would not provide significant results.

Lastly, race is another central theme that can be found in Moby Dick. At first sight, the Pequod can be viewed as place where equality thrives and there is fellowship among the races. The men on the Pequod consists of all kinds of men from all other the world that seem to get along. Although Ishmael is uneasy when he meets Queequeg for the first time, he comes to find out that he is better a “”sober cannibal than a drunken Christian”” as a shipmate. The work that the Pequod does creates equality among the crew because crew members are promoted based on the work that they have done and their skills. However, this is ironic to the actual fundamentals of whaling because the work of whaling can be found as characterizations of the American and European territorial expansion. Furthermore, the captain and mates in Moby Dick are all white while the harpooners are non-white. The white crew members on the ship are more dependent on other white crew members, while non-white crew members are involved in carrying out difficult jobs. The non-white characters subordination to the white characters can be exemplified by a scene in which Ahab is walking over Pip symbolizing his value as that of a slave. In another scene, Flask stands on Daggo, an African harpooner to beat the other mates.

The novel ends with the death of all the characters apart from Ishmael who survives to tell the story. From the story, it is important to note the Ishmael is very obedient and he enacts his duty towards the captain and towards God. He is very respectful and it can be implied that God allowed him to survive because he acknowledged Him, unlike Captain Ahab who stated that he had no duty towards the rest of the crew or towards God. The theme of defiance, race, limits of knowledge, obsession, and death can all be found throughout the novel of Moby Dick. Moby Dick ultimately wins at the end of the novel by destroying all the ships. Ahab, who is the captain, is seen pinned to a harpoon line and is dragged by the whale underneath the water leading to his eventual demise. It is only Ishmael, the one telling the story, who survives and lives to tell the tales of the voyage.

Emersonian Implosion: The Self-Reliant Man in Moby Dick and Keats’ Poetry

Ralph Waldo Emerson’s optimistic ideal of the “self-reliant man” in nature resonated in the literature of many of his contemporaries. Although many agreed with Emerson’s principles, however, two major writers, Herman Melville and John Keats, chose not to emulate him in their major works. Rather, they critiqued him. In the following essay, I will show, first, how Melville’s Moby Dick is a critique of the ideals of man illustrated by Emerson in his essays “Self-Reliance” and “Nature.” Through Captain Ahab’s failure and Ishmael’s survival, Melville shows how Emersonian ideals can be perverted and destructive in the search for truth. Second, the Romantic poet Keats also shows a potential for the darker side of self-reliance in his poem “La belle Dame sans Mercy,” in which the knight, in attempting to capture elusive truth, ultimately fails.For sake of chronological order, I will begin my analysis with Keats’ “La Belle Dame sans Mercy.” The belle of this poem can be viewed as the mysterious, non-human other, and paralleled to Moby Dick in the sense that the attempt to encapsulate and capture this elusive truth destroys the truth-seeker. As truth-seekers, Ahab and the knight both project their distorted version of truth onto the objects they pursue. The knight in “La Belle” creates a scenario of love, wherein this mystical lady and he are blissfully joined. As critic Theresa Kelley writes, “Neither the reader nor the knight is privy to her inner thoughts,” for she is “a figure known exclusively by her attributes” (Kelley 342). To the knight, the belle’s passive manners are easily interpreted into a semblance of love: “She found me roots of relish sweet, /And honey wild, and manna dew, /And sure in language strange she said– /I love thee true” (Keats 25-28). Each of her actions is ambiguous; her overall intentions are completely molded to the fancies of the knight. Her “language strange” is obviously reinterpreted by the knight to be words of love, in order to perpetuate his favored scenario. Kelley comments, “This ‘language strange’…indicates how figurative meaning tends to ‘err,’ half-mistaking itself as it wanders from its referent” (Kelley 342). Like the belle’s ambiguity in language and actions, the ambiguity of Moby Dick’s significance allows Ahab and the other crewman to muse and fixate on a specific meaning relative to each man’s personal preoccupation. It is also important to acknowledge that the torment which the knight experiences as he is “alone and palely loitering” (Keats 46) is, for the most part, self-inflicted. There is no agent to inflict this alienation, only his own sculpted, narrow reality. The eternal Promethean torment which Ahab experiences is also of his own creation: “God help thee, old man, thy thoughts have created a creature in thee; and he whose intense thinking thus makes him a Prometheus; a vulture feeds upon that heart for ever; that vulture the very creature he creates” (Melville 1008). Ahab pivots his existence on Moby Dick. If the whale is truly unconquerable, then Ahab has created a scenario in which he cannot exist.Ahab thus projects a gargantuan significance onto the whale, although the whale is possibly no more than a “dumb brute,” according to Starbuck. This significance is due to the whale’s symbolism of all the evil in the world: “All that most maddens and torments…all truth with malice in it…all evil, to crazy Ahab, were visibly personified, and made practically assailable in Moby Dick. He piled upon the whale’s white hump the sum of all general rage and hate felt by his whole race from Adam down…” (Melville 989). The narcissism in this enables Ahab to fuse all of his miscellaneous anger at the universe into one object. Thus, his monomania spawns a narrow-mindedness which Ahab believes to be crucial to his ability to finish this quest: “The White Whale swam before him as the monomaniac incarnation of all those malicious agencies which some deep men feel eating in them, till they are left living on with half a heart and half a lung” (Melville 989). Ahab’s inability to let alone what is inscrutable culminates in an interaction with Starbuck, in which Starbuck is angered by Ahab’s determination to have “vengeance on a dumb brute!” Starbuck does not believe the whale to have agency or a guiding principle of its own, only an animal instinct which caused him to take Ahab’s leg. To this, Ahab replies: “He tasks me; he heaps me; I see in him outrageous strength, with an inscrutable malice sinewing it. That inscrutable thing is chiefly what I hate; and be the white whale agent, or be the white whale principal, I will wreak that hate upon him” (Melville 967). This indicates that the physical existence and overall intention of the whale is irrelevant to Ahab. Ahab is concerned with the elusive truth, the “inscrutable malice,” which the whale symbolizes to him. However, the only way he is able to capture this truth would be to physically slay the whale, therefore possessing the “inscrutable” which before had eluded him. As critic Michael Hoffman comments, “Three generations of critics have busied themselves with worrying about what the whale symbolizes. They should have been concerned with the creator of meanings, Captain Ahab, for it is he, not Melville, who has created the ‘meaning’ of the white whale. He fashions the myth of Moby Dick to give substance, form, and value to his own unhappy life, and he is aided in his efforts by other mariners who in turn project their own meanings onto the animal” (Hoffman 91).Jean Paul Sartre also chides readers of Moby Dick who incessantly search for the ultimate symbolism of the whale: “We should stop seeing a symbolic universe in the tales [Melville] tells and in the things he describes. Symbols are attached retrospectively to ideas we begin with…” (Sartre 95). Ahab embodies the dangers of fusing one’s will into a “supreme purpose,” and entrusting oneself to a meaning which will always be infected by a narrow selfhood. However, it still seems possible for the reader to fall into the same trap which ensnared Ahab—the trap of assigning a lump sum meaning to an object in the light of an inevitably infected, narcissistic, personal agenda.In the first chapter, “Loomings,” Ishmael ponders the magnetism of the sea. He makes a parallel to Narcissus, and indicates this myth to be the “key to it all.” This parallel seems to foreshadow Ahab’s presence in the story. In the vast literary criticism on Moby Dick, Ahab has often been referred to as “narcissistic,” an adjective used mainly to describe his egotism. But in examining the story of Narcissus, one sees a greater parallel between doomed Ahab and the obsessed young boy. Both are consumed by something they see in the water, and both plunge to their death in an attempt to merge with and therefore grasp the meaning of (and merge with) that reflection. In his famous essay, “Nature,” Emerson asserts the reflective qualities of nature to man by claiming that “nature always wears the colors of the spirit” (Emerson 25). In Moby Dick, nature also seems to create reflections of the spirit, these reflections manifested in the white whale. Ahab acknowledges this distorted mirror in “The Dubloon,” where after gazing at the gold dubloon, and seeing only himself in the coin, he deducts that the entire earth is but a reflection of man: “…this round globe is but the image of the rounder globe, which, like a magician’s glass, to each and every man in turn but mirrors back his own mysterious self” (Melville 1254). This confirms what is already suspected in Ahab; his solipsistic outlook on the universe reduces reality to a “mirror-like opacity,” in which Ahab only sees himself, reflected by an introspectively sculpted reality (Zoellner 115). Ahab carries this outlook of the universal reflection to an extreme during the actual chase, when he feels Moby Dick to be in his grip. On the second day of the chase, Starbuck once again pleads with Ahab to abandon this doomed pursuit under the argument: “…never wilt thou capture him, old man…” To justify his actions to Starbuck, Ahab refers to himself as “Fates’ lieutenant,” who merely “act[s] under orders” (Melville 1394). This manipulation of fate into Ahab’s purposes shows the intensity and blindness of his monomania. Not only does the world mirror Ahab, but Fate itself is tailored to Ahab’s whims. Although Ahab imagines himself to be lacking will, he in fact has used it to will himself out of desiring anything but capturing Moby Dick: “…yielding up all his thoughts and fancies to his one supreme purpose; that purpose, by its sheer inveteracy of will, forced itself against gods and devils into a kind of self-assumed, independent being of its own (Melville 1007).” But this will is limited by fate, not steered by it. Ahab cannot comprehend a fate beyond one that will further him in his quest. He does little to justify himself to the world, except for a weak assertion that he is yielding to fate. In “Self-Reliance,” Emerson asserts that “Nothing is at last sacred but the integrity of your own mind. Absolve you to yourself, and you shall have the suffrage of the world” (Emerson 149). Captain Ahab has indeed absolved himself–directly into a delusion that his pursuit of truth is so large, his agenda so great, that he will persist with the “suffrage of the world,” although the entire ship is against him. It is not at all difficult for a man to deceive himself when he possesses conviction. For Melville, conviction is a dangerous sentiment, especially in the case of Ahab, where his convictions become aligned with truth: “Who’s over me? Truth hath no confines” (Melville 967). This conviction echoes Emerson’s conception of the man who realizes all of his possibilities in “Nature.” Emerson finds spatial and temporal constraints ineffective in the face of a personal truth or will: “We become immortal, for we learn that time and space are relations of matter; that with a perception of truth or a virtuous will they have no affinity” (Emerson 47). Ahab strives to maintain his self-inflicted insanity and purposeful alienation, and “assiduously cultivates this dehumanization, protecting it from any influence which might mitigate its terrible singularity” (Zoellner 100). He must be fully immersed because he knows that Pip could cure this madness, but does not want it so: “There is that in thee, poor lad, which I feel too curing to my malady. Like cures like; and for this hunt, my malady becomes my most desired health” (Melville 1363). Emerson has a similar sentiment, writing, upon being enraptured with nature, that “the name of the nearest friend sounds then foreign and accidental: to be brothers, to be acquaintances, master or servant, is then a trifle and a disturbance” (Emerson 24). Much like Emerson, fellow man to Ahab becomes irrelevant upon his immersion, merely an accessory to the grand pursuit. Indeed, “nature is thoroughly mediate. It is made to serve. It receives the dominion of man as meekly as the ass on which the Savior rode[…]” (Emerson 38). Considering the destruction which Moby Dick’s attempted “dominion” entailed, Melville would probably find this passage laughable. Emerson’s “doctrine of nature as a tool and the mind as a technician,” concisely worded by critic Frederick Garber, is a potentially dangerous presumption when existing alongside evil. Of course, one of Melville’s major qualms with Emerson was his ability to ignore the evil in the world, assuming it to be smoothed over by a greater good (Garber 196).For Melville, this anthropocentric view expressed by Emerson yields tragic results if man cannot accept his insignificance in an inscrutable and immense universe, wherein his conceptions of truth are irrelevant and no more overarching than that of any other man. To believe “all the facts in natural history taken by themselves, have no value, but are barren, like a single sex. But marry it to human history, and it is full of life” is to ignore the incredible autonomy of Moby Dick, the cruelty of the sea, and the futility of man’s attempts to reign in nature (Emerson 32). It seems that an epic drama of man is played out upon the sea, yet once man is destroyed in a brief, anti-climactic flurry, the sea rolls on “as it rolled five thousand years ago.” This anti-climax and eradicating futility demonstrates the farcical quality of Ahab’s impossible quest. The only survivor of this wreck is Ishmael, who all along had seemed keenly self-aware of his insignificance in the grand scheme, as well as of the inscrutability of truth. Retrospectively, he states, “I think I can see a little into the springs and motives which being cunningly presented to me under various disguises, induced me to set about performing the part I did, besides cajoling me into the delusion that it was a choice resulting from my own unbiased freewill and discriminating judgment” (Melville 799). Ishmael does not see the whale as his defining truth; he is not fixated on his own identity in relation to it. Rather, he is the objective viewer, and attempts to understand the whale from all perspectives, including the scientific, the philosophical, and the literary. Unlike his captain, he does not view the whale through the lens of revenge or ultimate truth. Ishmael does not believe he can master truth by the mere physical conquest of the white whale.In the beginning of chapter 49, for example, Ishmael bitterly expresses his anger with the universe becoming a “vast practical joke…and more than suspects that the joke is at nobody’s expense but his own” (Melville 1035). This is quite a change from the first chapter, where we are introduced to an Ishmael who feels somewhat cheated by his relatively insignificant place in the “grand programme of Providence,” but comically accepts it as his own, due to the fact that it “was drawn up a long time ago” (Melville 799). Although Ishmael’s attitude towards fate has changed, what has not changed is the very belief in fate. Ishmael still humbly accepts his destiny. Unlike Ahab, he does not launch on an immense, autonomous quest to conquer an inescapable fate and an inscrutable truth. Even in this bitterness Ishmael has developed towards destiny, he never loses sight of the joy which can be found in camaraderie. In “A Squeeze of the Hand,” for example, Ishmael is assigned the pleasant task of squeezing the lumps out of the gallons of oily spermaceti extracted from the sperm whale. As times passes, Ishmael becomes enthralled with this task, connecting with nature through the spermaceti, and, thus, connects with his fellow man through nature. As he exclaims, “Oh! My dear fellow beings, why should we longer cherish any social acerbities, or know the slightest ill-humor or envy! Come; let us squeeze hands all around; nay, let us all squeeze ourselves into each other; let us squeeze ourselves universally into the very milk and sperm of kindness” (Melville 1239). The Ishmael of “A Squeeze of the Hand” is a stark contrast with Ahab, who rejects all possible connections with humanity including the camaraderie of Pip, who could have cured his “malady” by loosening Ahab’s grip on his whale-constructed, self-reflective reality. In the end, Ishmael’s life is saved by a relic of a friendship, Queequeg’s coffin, carved to resemble Queequeg’s tattoos. Throughout this epic novel, Ishmael defines himself by the relationships around him. He is not at all the “self-reliant” man. He is the observer, the spectator, the objective force in this text which somehow enables him to survive. On the question of Emerson’s sidestepping the issue of evil, Melville once quipped, “His gross and astonishing errors & illusions spring from a self- conceit…Another species of Mr. Emerson’s errors, or rather blindness, proceeds from a defect in the region of the heart” (qtd. in Braswell 331). Through the narrative of Moby Dick, Melville sculpts a subtle critique of Emerson’s “great man” by creating a character which possesses all of the qualities of the Emersonian genius. This genius is self-reliant and views the universe as a reflection of the self. The knight of Keats’ “La Belle Dame sans Merci” used his malformed self-reliance to misinterpret the belle’s actions into a scenario of love, a reflection of his desires. More extreme than the knight, Ahab views the entire universe as a reflection of his desires. Through Moby Dick, Melville then places an ironic twist on this idea of a narcissistic genius by acknowledging the possibility of a perverting power of evil on this “self-reliance,” which Emerson chooses to ignore.

Call Him Ishmael: The Reliability and Authority of Melville’s Omniscient Narrator

Moby Dick is widely considered one of the greatest literary creations in history. The denseness of meaning, infinite possibility of interpretation, and ambiguity of implications give the text many layers. Therefore, knowing that the trustworthiness of a work of fiction is always somewhat unreliable, the audience must seek to determine whether Ishmael, Melville’s all-knowing, omnipresent narrator, is supposed to be a trusted and reliable witness to all events that take place while aboard the Pequod, or a first-person, omniscient narrator who spontaneously inherits mysterious knowledge about all things surrounding the voyage, even when he is not present. Placing Ishmael within the context of the story is where the first problem arises. Is Ishmael a regular, hard-working sailor looking to breathe the fresh sea air? Or is Ishmael the first-person embodiment of a third-person, omniscient narrator? The latter would be a rarity when considering the normal modes of narration in English literature. However, the possibility is there, and therefore one must look to the text for evidence as to whether Ishmael knows information that would befall the normal first-person participant. After establishing our hypothesis, we can then look to the reliability and trustworthiness of Ishmael, what effect this literary device has on the tone of the text, and what the immediate and long-term effects of that narrative style are. The tone of Moby Dick shifts frequently throughout the text. In the beginning, Ishmael claims to be a novice sailor who uses the sea as a means of getting away from the hustle and bustle of city life: Whenever I find myself growing grim about the mouth; whenever it is a damp, drizzly November in my soul; whenever I find myself involuntarily pausing before coffin warehouses, and bringing up the rear of every funeral I meet; and especially whenever my hypos (“slang for neurosis,” as the gloss tells us) get such an upper hand of me […] I account it is high time to get to sea as soon as I can (18).Clearly, Melville intends for his narrator to be a regular guy aching for some sort of adventure or release. However, this forces us into wondering about the existence of other narrative techniques within the text, i.e., Ishmael’s continual display of scientific knowledge. For instance, if one wanted to analyze the paradoxical nature of Ishmael’s narrative transformations in relation to the tone of the novel, the “Etymology” and the “Cetology” would be good places to start. The etymology that precedes the text consists of a lengthy list of references to whales or the word “whale” through the history of literature, ranging from the Bible to Shakespeare. It seems that Melville is attempting to substantiate the symbolism and importance behind the ideology of the white whale by proving its existence as a symbol over time. Hennig Cohen, of the University of Pennsylvania, gives an interesting perspective on the reasoning behind Melville’s conflicting stylistic tones: [A]n Etymology of the word whale, which, for all of its scholarly appearance, turns out to be incomplete, contains conflicting information, and is mildly erroneous. This is followed by an array of Extracts or citations about whales and whaling from the accumulation of the ages, though these quotations are preceded by the warning that they should not be mistaken for veritable gospel cetology. What is being said here is that leviathan is real, so much greasy blubber for the rendering, and at the same time sublime, and for this reason he cannot be hooked. No definitions can define him, no system of knowledge can categorize him. The structure of his story is a hunt for this rogue whale, a symbol of the pursuit of absolute knowledge that will escape the finding, and indeed, this is the knowledge that will be found.”From this helpful excerpt we can now begin to trace the disparities in tone that make the ideologies behind Moby Dick seem so paradoxical. Melville appears to want badly to display concrete proof of the whale as a symbol through Ishmael’s discourse, yet simultaneously to create an ungraspable entity that would mystify all readers brave enough to attempt to break down its meaning. Later on, in Chapter 32, entitled “Cetology,” the reader is again exposed to a shift in narration when Ishmael veers off course into a scientific discussion. This chapter describes the different classes of whales that inhabit the ocean and their characteristics. The existence of this chapter is consistent with the establishment from the etymology that the whale is a very real creature that exists within the boundaries and rules of our world; yet it is an ungraspable, undefinable creature that is Moby Dick. The “Cetology” offered to us by Ishmael is similar to the etymology in that the tone of its existence and its purpose within the novel is paradoxical. The purely scientific chapter appears solely for Ishmael to clarify the physicality of the sperm whale. Interestingly, the effect is ambiguous, making the reader even more unable to comprehend exactly what Moby Dick is or symbolizes, as well as what Melville’s stylistic intentions were: It was stated at the outset, that this system would not be here, and at one, perfected. You cannot but plainly see that I have kept my word. But I now leave my cetological System thus unfinished […] This whole book is but a draught—nay, but the draught of a draught” (125).At the conclusion of the scientific discourse on the leviathan, Ishmael admits to the imperfection in the system he has created. However, even before this final statement of admitted failure to classify the whale, Ishmael gives numerous opinions of “the best and latest authorities” on cetology. Examples of the quotations from these sources include “confusion,” unfathomable,” “incomplete” and “Impenetrable.” This is how Melville intends to twist the mind of the reader around the idea of the mystery of Moby Dick while also trivializing a chapter like “Cetology.” Although the chapter appears to be a humorous way for Melville to add authority to his narrator and create confusion regarding the truth beyond Ishmael’s expertise, one can argue that the information given in the system is somewhat reliable. David Sisk explains, Despite Herman Melville’s jests at the expense of such serious cetologists as Scoresby, Beale and Cuvier, the material he presents so humorously is no joke. Today’s reader can still draw from this chapter a substantial amount of accurate information concerning identifying marks and behavior patterns of earth’s major species of cetaceans … Melville’s prose, however playfully unscientific, remains sufficiently accurate that none of his fourteen descriptions pose a problem in identification.Sisk’s comments bring together the idea that appears to sum up Melville’s dual style in composing Moby Dick: total knowledge is something that will always elude man. Assuming that Melville knew what he was doing when he created the character of Ishmael, the tone of the novel appears to be designed to bring about opposing feelings in its readers. Many points in the text are paradoxical in this sense. Some of Ishmael’s narration attempts to be scientific and mechanical, such as his description of “ambergris”, the valuable substance found in the bowels of the sperm whale. Simultaneously, the narration will shift from these robotic discourses to deep, rich, figurative language that seems entirely to derail Melville’s previous attempts at substantiating his and Ishmael’s knowledge and expertise. In Chapter 96, Ishmael, after narrating on one of these literal topics (tri-works), quickly dazes into a metaphoric and highly combative discourse in comparison to his previous attempts at substantiation. Chapter 103, “Measurement of the Whale’s Skeleton,” is yet another paradoxical attempt by Ishmael to make the whale a graspable entity. This time, Ishmael’s attempts to quantify the size of the whale, stating that it would probably have weighed tons and that it probably “would considerably outweigh the combined population of a whole village of one thousand one hundred inhabitants” (347). Strangely, this quantification of the size of the whale is not likely to be correct, even by Ishmael’s “careful calculation.” Furthermore, Ishmael then goes on to state that these bones only give a partial picture of the whale, of which it is impossible to find an accurate representation. This paradoxical, almost comical attempt at substantiating Ishmael as a trustworthy narrator establishes a depth and ambiguous tone. As an audience we must now ask ourselves the question that arises from our analysis of Ishmael’s flip-flopping narrative style: what are the implications behind Melville’s purposeful contradiction involving his narrator and tone of text? Perhaps Melville wanted to compose an altogether paradoxical text: throughout the entirety of the novel, there is evidence that Melville put large amounts of time and work into finding ways for his narrator to display his knowledge, whether about blubber, whales, or ambergris. This assertion of authority is then juxtaposed with very unclear, ambiguous ideas that surround the whaling world. Therefore, Melville must be implying in an extremely roundabout way that no amount of knowledge could ever fully grasp the ungraspable phantom that is Moby Dick. Ishmael’s constant ability to transform from a novice whaler looking for some fresh air to a professor of philosophy and whale anatomy is something the reader must keep in mind when putting his trust in Ishmael. Works Cited1. Cohen, Hennig. University of Pennsylvania. Dictionary of Literary Biography, Volume 3. “Antebellum writers in New York and the South.” A Bruccoli Clark Layman Book. Edited by Joel Myerson. University of South Carolina. The Gale Group, 1979. 221.245. Sisk, David W. A Note on Moby Dick’s CETOLOGY Chapter. University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. ANQ, 0895769X, Apr94, Vol. 7, Issue 2. Academic Search Premier.

The “Savage” as the Civilizer

In studying the development of the early American novel, one might find it helpful to compare Ishmael’s relationship with Queequeg in “Moby Dick” to Huck’s relationship with Jim in “Huckleberry Finn”. In each case, the “savage” actually humanizes and civilizes the supposedly “civilized” character. However, it is the similarities and differences in the process each author uses that the reader will find most interesting.One similarity between the two is in the way both Melville and Twain use the relationships in question to reveal hypocrisy in society. In Huck Finn, physical appearance is the only criteria considered in determining which persons are afforded rights. No matter how immoral a white man might be, society gives him power over a highly moral black character like Jim. Furthermore, society looks unfavorably upon Pap but still gives him custody of Huck. Huck’s well-being as a child is clearly not considered to be as important to society as the preservation of Pap’s rights as a sperm donor (for he really has not earned the title “father”). Twain very effectively satirizes the complete lack of logic in decisions made by the society from the justice system to the rather blindly-followed distortions of Christianity. None of the decisions made seem to really make sense. Instead, everyone appears to follow without question the sets of arbitrary laws and rules that govern societal institutions. On the raft, Huck and Jim are able to rise above the illogical rules of society and form what would clearly be a forbidden relationship in which Jim is not only Huck’s equal but his father figure as well. Huck’s depth of compassion for Jim is what ultimately drives him to the choice to help Jim regardless of the legal and moral/religious consequences he believes that he will face. It is only after Huck is affected by Jim’s humanity that this can really occur.The most obvious example from Moby-Dick that comes to mind to address the issue of hypocrisy in society is the treatment of wages by the ship owners, which is an echo of the hypocrisy in Father Mapple’s sermon about the sin of disobedience. Captain Bildad, who preaches that men should not store up treasure on earth, is the most in danger of hellfire because of his avarice. However, Queequeg does not seem to have a concept of this kind of greed and gives freely of what is his to Ishmael. Ishmael seems almost annoyed with Queequeg’s generosity because he has been programmed by society to think differently. In this way, Queequeg’s actions are “civil” and those taught to Ismael (society’s values) are more savage.Another similarity is in how both authors allow the characters to leave society and create their own world on the water. Within this world, the influence of societal “values” is suppressed in favor of a logical or more practical system of values. In other words, the values of the “uncivilized” character are adopted in favor of the values of the “civilized” character in the pair. Specifically, instead of valuing a person according to something as arbitrary as outer physical appearance, practicalities such as survival skills and companionship surface as being the important factors to consider in judging a person’s worth. For example, Queequeg is described initially as strange to Ismael. His appearance, his rituals, and his manners all seem very foreign to the narrator.In short, he would be considered “savage” by society’s standards. However, on board the Pequod, he is an essential figure with equal standing in the whaling society. When he is given trouble from the other sailors, it is the influence of the values of the society on land that causes disruption. When Queequeg jumps overboard and saves the sailor who he could have killed before the ship set sail, each man realizes the value of his presence and the need for his type of selflessness in their world.Likewise, Jim is merely a slave in the eyes of society in Huck Finn, but he is Huck’s lifeline. Huck’s survival depends upon Jim as much as Jim’s depends upon Huck in many cases. They are not of equal worth by society’s standards, but when they are on the raft, they are equals. Huck’s difficulty in accepting this truth is always tied back to society’s influence. His beliefs in some of the things he was taught about Christianity conflict with his feelings about what he experiences when he is away from that society, which is part of what makes his decision to help Jim such a powerful one. Huck’s willingness to go to hell is interesting both in the way he views hell and in the way his lack of maturity causes him to show defiance rather than question what he was taught.The major similarities in the two relationships in these novels can be linked to the way both authors are trying to address the problems of a dehumanized society. It is this society, which professes to be civilized, that destroys that which is civil and humane in people in favor of that which brings income or otherwise assists in leading to that ultimate end. The difference in characters such as Queequeg and Jim as opposed to the society of white, civilized America is found by looking into the soul. Humanity has not yet been torn from the “savages” the way it has been taught out of Huck and Ishmael when they begin their journeys, and so their “savage” counterparts must bring out the innate humanity in the two protagonists.