Moby Dick by Herman Melville Essay
Moby Dick by Herman Melville causes unrest in minds of many readers. The narrative brings out most of the literal sense although it seems to be unfinished. The great thing about the fiction is the use of art which makes it great and strong.
Melville describes the African American characters: Pip and Fleece using various principal characteristics of literature. In this paper, we explore the elements of literature used to describe Pip and Fleece and their relationship with Ahab and Stubb respectively. In addition the dialect used depicts their speech and not superiority or inferiority of a given group of persons.
Melville uses figurative language to describe Pip as he calls him “black little Pip” in chapter 28. This means that Pip was a black and little man. “Black little Pip” is a hyperbole used to describe Pip. Melville also depicts Pip as a happy boy from Alabama. He vividly explains Pip’s happiness by the way he plays tambourine on front part of the castle.
In addition, he uses ideas and natural phenomenon like “bid in strike with angels and beat his tambourine in glory…” to define Pip’s joy or happiness. This description brings out his insanity which occurred after jumping from boat when they were chasing a whale with Stubb. As a result, he became mentally disturbed. His act of playing toumbrine joyfully depicts the state of his mind as it is shown in chapter 28.
According to Melville, Fleece is described as an old black man and the cook in the ship. In chapter 64, Melville refers to him as “old Fleece” to show his elderliness. The author uses invocation of abstract and humor to describe the stiffness in Fleece’s knees. In chapter 64, he refers to them as “…his knee pans, which did not keep well scoured like his other pan.” Symbolism and ambiguity are elements of literature used to describe the character of Fleece as an old cook.
Fleece is also described as a man who is ordered to address sharks as noted in here “mumbling voice began to addressing the sharks.” He also gives a vivid description of the interior design of the ship where Fleece supports himself while addressing sharks. Such a design can be compared to complex psychological state of Fleece due to his advanced age. The author uses idea of addressing sharks as equal to sermons given in Christian congregations. The advanced age of Fleece is shown in his limping.
The relationship between Captain Ahab and Pip brings out contrast in Pequod. According to Melville, Captain Ahab is a main and prominent character in Pequod.
Pip is direct opposite of Captain Ahab. Pip is not deeply analyzed in the novel compared to Ahab. Ahab is the most powerful and Pip is the least powerful in Pequod. In chapter 124, Pip’s speech is passionate but senseless and only way to understand him is through his bond with Ahab. Ahab begins to hunt Moby Dick and is determined to kill him as seen in his speech “wreck that hate upon him.”
In addition, he realizes Pip possessed a deeper understanding which could help him to achieve his goals. Ahab took note of Pip’s speech when Queequeg died and he said that they ought to make him a general. “General” is symbolic to show Queequeg was honorable and a good man. In chapter 125, Pip talked about his lost soul when he jumped out of boat.
At this point, Ahab realized that his sanity was controlled by his own insanity and Pip’s insanity controlled his sanity too. In chapter 129, Ahab is determined to kill Moby Dick. He begs Pip to stay with him so that he can attain his goal. The main foundations of their relationship are noted in Pip’s loyalty, the spiritual encounter under the water and lack of control over Ahab. Ahab takes advantage of these reasons to gain knowledge on how to kill Moby Dick. Mostly, Melville has used symbolism to bring out the ideas of participants.
In chapter 64, Melville brings out contrasting qualities of Stubb and Fleece. This chapter is characterized by racial stereotypes of antebellum. Here is a short description of antebellum. Antebellum in American history was characterized by conflict which divided the country.
The conflict was between agricultural South, free labor in industrializing North and slave labor. However the similarities between South and North were more pronounced than the differences. During antebellum period, the Africa-Americans were viewed in various ways by different groups of people. For example, in southern part black people were enslaved while in North Americans regarded slavery with hatred and disgust.
In chapter 64 on Stubb’s Supper, Stubb is depicted as a mischievous person with good sense of humor. He does not attach too much significance on something. Fleece is an old black cook and his character is not deeply explored. Their relationship is that of a servant master.
Ishmael uses symbolism to describe Fleece’s walking style after being awakened by Stubb to prepare his dinner. Fleece being old, he had been limping and Ishmael captures this character vividly using invocation of abstract and symbolism. The narrator defines fleece’s weakening legs as “knee-pans” to symbolize stiffening knees of the old cook. In addition, he uses kitchen items to compare his physical body with the work he does.
A deep description of the ship’s interior is given especially from hammock where Fleece was sleeping, to the deck where Stubb stayed. Stubb complains that the steak is overdone and not rough the way sharks want it. Stubb compares himself to a shark and he also realizes how the sharks are excited about the whale they are feeding on.
He sends Fleece to give them a sermon to remind them that they should eat quietly no matter how much they eat. Fleece obeys Stubb’s orders although they seem to be unrealistic because sharks do not understand spoken language. The relationship here is that of master-servant; where a servant accomplishes orders no matter how ridiculous they may be. In addition, issues of racism are depicted clearly by the author.
Stubb tells Fleece to coax sharks instead of giving them orders, which is symbolic as he fools Fleece. In addition, Stubb mocks his Christian belief of eternal life and tells to be born again to cook steak correctly. The author here uses irony because Fleece has been a cook for many years whether born again or not.
Fleece is disappointed by the treatment and mockery shown by Stubb as he goes back to bed. Moreover, Ishmael gets metaphorical when Fleece explains to sharks that they should govern themselves calmly and feast on whale equally because it does not belong to them but to someone else. The relationship here is characterized by mockery and absurd orders.
In conclusion, the author uses symbolism, hyperboles, ambiguity of meaning, universal ideas and description of interior to describe the qualities of Fleece and Pip. In addition, Melville describes their relationships with Stubb and Ahab and the natural environment.
The Greatest Emptiness Concept in Moby Dick Essay
The central contradiction which people have been trying to comprehend for ages is between the good and the evil and life and death. An American novelist Herman Melville analyzes this discrepancy in his novel Moby-Dick; or, The Whale, which was written in the XIX century. The story is considered to be unique because of its elaborate scientific descriptions of whaling, behavioral patterns of a whale as a specimen, and even its classification. However, the topic of whaling goes beyond biological borders and serves as a symbol of eternal powers that confuse human minds and hearts. This paper analyzes Moby Dick, a mysterious symbol of an embodied terror and the inevitable tragedy of humanity, discusses the main characters of the novel, and summarizes the plot of the story.
Summary of the Novel
The narrator of the story, Ishmael, who used to be a sailor, is planning to do whaling on a particular vessel. The man travels to Massachusetts and stays in a whalers’ inn, which turns out to be full, and, therefore, he has to live with an eccentric but charismatic savage, Queequeg. Although being repulsed by his roommate at first, Ishmael soon discovers his generosity and kindness, and the two men decide on searching for the work on the whaling vessel. Inspired by their mutual idea, the men head for Nantucket, where they find an unusual gorgeous ship named Pequod, embellished with sperm whale teeth and bones. Afterward, Ishmael and Queequeg meet with the captain of the ship, Ahab, and their adventurous journey begins.
When Ahab appears on the deck for the first time, he declares his intentions to pursue and kill the dreadful white whale, Moby Dick, a source of evil, because of whom the captain lost his leg. As their hunting proceeds, Ahab succeeds in catching a few whales, meets captains from other whaling vessels, and questions them about Moby Dick. One day the captain meets a mad prophet, Gabriel, from the ship Jeroboam who predicts inevitable dreadful consequences for those who threaten Moby Dick.
Ahab’s desire for vengeance intensifies, and finally, when the boat reaches the equator, the captain notices the legendary whale and prepares for the attack. With only one strike, Moby Dick destroys Ahab’s harpoon boat. The next day, the captain repeats his attack and manages to harpoon the whale, but despite this, Moby Dick attacks again. At the end of the story, Ahab follows the destiny of his close companion, Fedallah, and dies, like the rest of Pequod’s crew and the crews of other boats. Ishmael, on the contrary, manages to escape the whirlpool and survives. At the end of the novel, another ship rescues Ishmael and continues to look for the lost crewmen.
The Main Theme
The central theme of the novel is the inevitability of human destiny illustrated by the unambiguous symbol of fatal catastrophe, the white whale named Moby Dick. The author draws readers’ attention towards the incredibly white color of the enormous creature, demonstrating its beauty, terror, and majesty. The white color in the novel indicates not only death or eternal cold, but it also reflects the absence of color, the emptiness. It is widely believed that whiteness stands for lack of color, the daunting nothing, where neither “good” nor “evil” exists. Melville describes an incredibly relentless picture of universal indifference and emptiness without supernatural powers to control human life or death. By doing this, the novelist concedes that humanity is not only vulnerable when facing the most considerable void but also defenseless against fate.
However, despite the enormous power of fate, some individuals challenge the future, regardless of their strengths and abilities. The most quintessential example of this is Captain Ahab, overwhelmed by his vengeance. The captain claims that “there is no folly of the beast of the earth which is not infinitely outdone by the madness of man” (Melville, 2019, p. 310). Moreover, Ahab refuses to perceive Moby Dick as a symbol of emptiness, contending that this white whale represents the Evil and must be destroyed.
The Main Characters
A mature experienced sailor Ahab, who dedicated his life to sea and whaling, leaving behind his family on the shore, is a typical example of a high-principled man. The captain presents himself as a dour and commanding man, whose obsession with Moby Dick frightens the rest of the crew. Full of determination and loyal to his ambition, the captain perceives his contradiction with Moby Dick as an epic battle of the good and the evil (Burnham, 2017). The captain’s primary opponent, Starbuck, endeavors to persuade Ahab in the delusion of his intention and prove to him that his idea of chasing Moby Dick is a result of his impulsivity. Even able to defeat the obsessed captain at the right moment, Starbuck preserves his loyalty towards Ahab.
Ishmael, the narrator of the story, is a sailor whose affection and desire for the ocean led him to set out on the journey on Pequod. During the journey, the man continually observes diverse conflicts around him, related to ethnicity, race, or culture. Even though Ishmael seems to be a simple observer, his role is much more significant: the man “is the key figure regulating the global diversity on board of Pequod, working in effect as an agent of Ahab’s tyrannical rule” (Rowe, 2016, p. 321). Combining savagery and civilization in his character, harpooner Queequeg is presented as a noble and courteous man, despite his wild manners. The author depicts an incredibly intimate relationship between the harpooner and Ishmael to convey an idea of universal brotherhood, regardless of different ethnicities (Phillips, 2018).
Hence, the novel succeeds in covering most of the actual essential topics for the nineteenth century; all the problems remain similar, despite historical changes. In my opinion, Melville encourages readers to search for solutions to primary social issues such as tolerance and racism. Having demonstrated the consequences of a few situations described in the novel, the author has persuaded humanity in its imperfection and instability due to personal sins. I believe that the author’s idea of fighting one’s own demons like obsession or ignorance of the loyal ones can help an individual to survive the brutality of destiny.
The concept of the novel is illustrated by a universal symbol, Moby Dick, and its meaning, which remains strictly personal for every individual, depending on their perceptions and sentiments. Sophisticated relationships between the main characters, the concepts of eternal, uncontrollable powers, and the indication of human helplessness before merciless destiny convert the novel into an endless analysis of the fundamental organization of life. Although the book is an attempt to discover an answer to the questions of life’s meaning raised by the author, the discussion of them remains open even for modern communities.
Burnham, R. A. (2017). Reflections on the psychological aspects of Moby-Dick. Psychological Perspectives, 60(4), 465-473.
Melville, H. (2019). Moby-Dick; or, the whale. New York, NY: Harper Press.
Phillips, C. N. (2018). Sacred uncertainty: Religious difference and the shape of Melville’s career by Brian Yothers. Leviathan, 20(2), 112-115.
Rowe J.C., (2016). Moby-Dick and Globalization. In M. Graham & W. Raussert (Eds.) Mobile and Entangled America (s) (pp. 321-336). Abington, UK: Routledge.
“Moby Dick” by Herman Melville Essay (Book Review)
Moby Dick: Beginning
It is hard for me to ignore Herman Melville’s characterization of Ishmael, Queequeg, and Captain Ahab. Melville created a ragtag team of misfits in order to bring down a sea monster. It is a radical departure from the conventional storyline that usually requires the presence of a noble hero. In Moby Dick, the word losers and misfits come to mind. Consider for instance the inclusion of Peleg and Bildad. In the context of the story, Peleg and Bildad are outcasts in a religious community that was established on a certain religious framework.
It is easy to reject Peleg and Bildad, because the religion that they practiced attracted only a small portion of the American population. At the same time, they were misfits in a whaling community, because their religion disavowed the use of violence.
However, they presented themselves as entrepreneurs ready to support a business that requires a merciless destruction of majestic sea creatures. I believe that Herman Melville tried to advocate the idea that underdogs can win in a battle of attrition. In other words, people who are written off as losers will fight til the end.
I want to make another observation, it is based on the belief that misfits are unable to win if they are unwilling to work as a team. Thus, it is imperative to forge a relationship between Ishmael and Queequeg, before they can take on the great white whale. It is also interesting to point out our tendency to reject people that are different from us.
We are afraid to mingle with those who do not share our belief systems. However, the story of Ishmael and Queequeg forces us to acknowledge the fact that a person with a different culture and economic background brings with him capabilities and insights that we do not possess. Moby Dick is a tale of adventure. However, it is also a fantastic story that talks about the beauty of cross-cultural teams, a popular subject in the present time.
Moby Dick: Middle Part
I made my point clear with regards to the unique attributes of cross-cultural teams. When the Pequod was ready to go to battle, the racially mixed crew of the whaling ship enabled it to create a team of proficient workers synergized to perform high level work. As a result the racially mixed crew empowered the owner of the ship and its captain, to embark on a harrowing journey into the sea. However, there is the question of leadership. I believe that the most important thing that ensures victory for the group is not the composition of the team.
The most critical component needed to ensure the success of the team is the quality of the leaders. Without a doubt, Melville contemplated this question. The United States of America are comparable to the Pequod, in the sense that this country is a melting pot of cultures. Melville had to figure out the appropriate sociological framework needed to unify the different people groups in his country.
In response to this dilemma, the author wrote, “It is the same with the American whale fisher, and the engineering forces employed in the construction of the American canals and railroads. The same way, I say, because in all these cases the native American provides the brains, and the rest of the world supplies the muscles” (Melville 116). At this point, no one can dispute Melville’s genius.
Therefore, no one can argue that he made a mistake. He meant what he said. I can just imagine how social media will crucify Melville if he is given the chance to post his musings on Facebook. He made a politically incorrect statement. However, it was also his attempt to understand the social forces that were shaping his country.
On the other hand, it can be argued that Melville was simply stating the truth. He did not sugarcoat the reality that he saw with regards to the ability of Caucasian Americans to lead culturally diverse teams of workers. I also like to point out Melville’s intense patriotic fervor. He made the implication that the real Native Americans were the white people who came from Europe. They were his ancestors who crossed the Atlantic Ocean in order to settle into the New World.
In the present time, this is considered an erroneous statement, because when historians of the 21st century talk about Native Americans, they are referring to the original inhabitants of the American continent. They write about a race of people that populated these lands, before Europeans came to colonize the New World.
Moby Dick: Ending
It is difficult for me to grasp or appreciate the story’s ending. It is hard for me to believe that Melville will murder his beloved characters. It is hard to appreciate the fact that Captain Ahab died, and that only Ishmael lived to tell the tale. I think that a steady supply of Hollywood films conditioned my mind to expect a happy ending for a bunch of misfits desperate to discover life’s deeper meaning as they ventured into the sea. It is hard to blame readers who shared my expectations.
At first glance, it seemed to me that Melville utilized the same formula that Hollywood filmmakers used when they created an inspirational movie. A typical storyline in an inspirational movie focuses the spotlight on a group of underdogs. The climax of that movie follows a predictable pattern, as the ill-equipped group overcomes multiple obstacles thrown its way. Thus, it is normal for the reader to expect Captain Ahab’s impending victory.
It can be argued that Melville inadvertently set the stage leading to the inevitable conquest of the whale. Unfortunately, the sea monster won the final round. I need to look at the big picture to make sense of the story’s ending. I said to myself that this is an American author who created a story that was set in Nantucket, Massachusetts. Americans love this type of storyline.
They adore the story of the underdogs. On the contrary, they hate sport teams whose rosters are filled with multi-millionaire athletes unwilling to give their all. In the present time, it is almost unacceptable to write a story wherein a group of upstarts are unable to beat the odds.
I was hoping that the team comprised of Ishmael, Queequeg, Starbuck, Stubb, and Captain Ahab will win the epic battle against the great white whale. However, Melville was not thinking about 20th century pop culture.
He was probably thinking about Greek tragedy. I need to find an alternative explanation. I believe that Melville’s core message was not the importance of fighting it out to the end. I believe that the author wanted his readers to realize the futility of going against fate. On the other hand, one can also argue that Melville wanted his readers to celebrate the heroic actions of Captain Ahab and his team.
Melville, Herman. Moby Dick, Boston, MA: C.H. Simmonds and Co., 1892. Print.
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, xroads.virginia.edu/~HYPER/bb/hm_bio.html) 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, xroads.virginia.edu/~HYPER/bb/hm_bio.html). 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), history.furman.edu/editorials/see.py?menu=ds 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, https://scholarworks.iu.edu/journals /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: https://www.bibleodyssey.org:443/people/related -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.