Race And American Culture in Moby Dick
Moby Dick Analysis: The Perception of Race on the Pequod
In Moby Dick, Herman Melville examines the themes of race and power through the perspective Ishmael, a white Christian man living in nineteenth century America. Melville reflects on the hierarchical structures established in the American society and how they correlate with race. The Pequod, the setting for a majority of the story, serves as a model of society on a smaller scale. In this tiny, isolated community, a clear social order is established with Ahab and Starbuck at the top and crewmen such as Queequeg and Pip at the bottom. Men of different religions, cultures, and ethnic backgrounds all inhabit the boat which leads to Ishmael challenging the ideas about culture perpetuated by society and becoming more introspective in regards to his own feelings on race. Throughout the novel, the dynamics of a multicultural community in the nineteenth century are examined and perception of these differing cultures through the eyes of a white American man is shown; through this perspective Melville is given an opportunity to challenge the notions of white supremacy.
Over the course of Moby Dick, Ishmael’s view on race and whiteness changes. His first encounter with someone who challenges his ideas on normalcy and white supremacy is Queequeg. Ishmael hesitantly shares a bed with Queequeg in a motel and questions every action he takes. Regarding Queequeg, Ishmael says, “But there was no time for shuddering, for now the savage went about something that completely fascinated my attention, and convinced me that he must indeed be a heathen. Going to his heavy grego, or wrapall, or dreadnaught, which he had previously hung on a chair, he fumbled in the pockets, and produced at length a curious little deformed image with a hunch on its back, and exactly the colour of a three days’ old Congo baby.” Ishmael carefully analyzes everything Queequeg does the first night that they have to share a bed with each other because of his ignorance to a cannibal’s way of life.
In the town of New Bedford, Queequeg is instantly labeled as an outsider because of his dark complexion, thick accent, and cannibalistic practices. Ishmael states, “If I had been astonished at first catching a glimpse of so outlandish an individual as Queequeg circulating among the polite society of a civilized town, that astonishment soon departed upon taking my first daylight stroll through the streets of New Bedford.” While Ishmael regards New Bedford as a calm, civilized community, he identifies Queequeg as the antithesis of this. From Ishmael’s perspective, whiteness and Western culture is what is most normal and correct way of living. People from other places with differing cultures are less advanced and should be the ones to assimilate. After spending some time thinking about where all of his fear and reservation towards Queequeg is stemming from, Ishmael realises that Queequeg has every right to be as fearful of him. Ishmael says, “What’s all this fuss I have been making about, thought I to myself—the man’s a human being just as I am: he has just as much reason to fear me, as I have to be afraid of him. Better sleep with a sober cannibal than a drunken Christian.” It is hard for anyone to be comfortable around someone completely different from them. The whole time that Ishmael secretly watches Queequeg in the hotel room, he is looking at him with from a point of superiority. Since Queequeg is the person from out of the country, in Ishmael’s eyes, Queequeg is the one who needs to explain his way of living to him. Ishmael has does not have to explain how and why he does things because he feels like he is the normal, civilized one while Queequeg is the abnormal foreigner.
As Ishmael lives on the Pequod with a myriad of different people and his relationship with Queequeg grows, he begins to question the ideas surrounding white supremacy. The imperialistic nature of Western nations relies heavily on the notion that white culture is superior to other cultures; it is more civilized, more technologically advanced, and serves as a model of every country should be. It is deemed almost as morally right to colonize countries belonging to dark skinned people because Western culture has something to offer them; a monotheistic religion, industrialisation, clothing, and “civilized” mannerisms. Not only does white supremacy promote the idea that white culture itself is superior, it also relies on the “science” of eugenics to prove white people are biologically better than darker skinned individuals. Countering the views promoted by eugenics, when examining Queequeg’s appearance, Ishmael draws comparison to George Washington.
“Whether it was, too, that his head being shaved, his forehead was drawn out in freer and brighter relief, and looked more expansive than it otherwise would, this I will not venture to decide; but certain it was his head was phrenologically an excellent one. It may seem ridiculous, but it reminded me of General Washington’s head, as seen in the popular busts of him. It had the same long regularly graded retreating slope from above the brows, which were likewise very projecting, like two long promontories thickly wooded on top. Queequeg was George Washington cannibalistically developed.”
Since eugenics heavily focuses on the physiological make up of people of different races to prove superiority, Ishmael comparing Queequeg to one of the highest regarded American men in history, George Washington, is unexpected from a white man living in a time when this science is widely accepted as fact. Ishmael is able to demonstrate his introspective nature on the topic of race throughout the book. He indicates many times in the novel that he believes Queequeg’s culture is inferior to his own; yet Ishmael is still able to question why he feels they way he does and challenge the ideas perpetuated by inherently racist parts of American society. His ability to do so increases as he spends more time on the Pequod.
In the novel, through the interactions among the members of the Pequod, Melville is able to highlight the irony that can be found in white supremacy. One of most outstanding ironies being that while Americans love to consume black culture, they still claim that the people creating it are inferior. When the crew want to pass time by partying and dancing, they call on Pip to play music on his tamborine. The men continue to make outright racist remarks about dark skinned people on the ship as a storm approaches them. One of the Spanish sailors says,“Aye, harpooneer, thy race is the undeniable dark side of mankind—devilish dark at that. No offence.” The irony of the sailors enjoying listening to Pip’s music yet still regarding him as not only inferior, but evil, seems to be lost on the men.
Throughout Moby Dick, the relation between race and American culture is examined. Ishmael’s narration as a white man living in a time of rampid racial tension and white supremacy offers a vital perspective. The Pequod serves as a model of a multicultural society on a small scale. In this small community Ishmael is forced to reflect on his feelings of superiority and challenge these beliefs he has been taught to hold. Melville uses the story of Ishmael and the Pequod to expose the irony and contradictions found in white supremacist ideology in ways that the characters are often oblivious to.
Representation Of Coffin in Moby Dick
In Herman Melville’s Moby Dick (1851), the coffin which symbolizes death, alternately is associated with life and death. Melville employs the coffin as image representing the inevitability of death and intersperses the word ‘coffin’ throughout the novel. Indeed, the only certain reality of the whalers is their ultimate lot, death. A few allusions are made to characters who have the last name “Coffin”, near Ishmael’s neighborhood is a coffin warehouse, and a carpenter constructs a coffin aboard the whaling vessel. These ominous references to coffin foreshadow approaching death. The coffin imagery reminds the whalers that they do not fight against whales – they are crusading against death.
In Moby Dick, the characters’ attitudes toward death can be traced by their reactions to the coffin. First of all, the book begins with Ishmael in a depressive mood gazing at coffin warehouses. At the sight of the coffin warehouses he decides that he has nothing to lose and initiates plans to start a marine career, whaling. Ishmael contemplates, “I find myself involuntarily pausing before coffin warehouses” (Melville 7). Beholding the somber portent of death, Ishmael does not flout death by choosing a dangerous occupation; rather, he accepts it as a fact, deciding to move on with his life. The mass production of coffins augurs the future demise of the sailors on their deathly expeditions to capture whales. At the end, only Ishmael survives the voyage, clinging on to a coffin. “Ishmael now understands and accepts mortality (Queequeg’s coffin) as the absence of presence and the center of being” (Spanos). In both instances, the coffin imagery surfaces at the beginning and at the end as a presentiment of death and its inherence in life.
Melville foreshadows imminent death for Ahab employing the coffin imagery. Melville portrays the one-legged Ahab tottering on the verge between the lines of life and death. “His one live leg made lively echoes around the deck, every stroke of his dead limb sounded like a coffin tap. On life and death this old man walked.” (Melville 221). This vivid coffin imagery of his false, ‘dead’, leg indicates that he too will die on his mission to avenge himself on Moby Dick which badly mangled and amputated his leg in a perilous encounter. Fedallah prophecies to Ahab that “neither coffin nor hearse can be thine”(Melville 465). This second premonition of not being enclosed in a coffin yet dying proves to be Ahab’s fate and Fedallah’s ironically. Ahab shows his contempt for death by daring to face Moby Dick and to vindictively slaughter him; however, Ahab wounds up dying in Moby Dick’s jaws as harpoon entangles him and thrusts him from the deck into the ocean.
The coffin symbol emerges yet again Queequeg, another of the whalers, denoting Queequeg’s looming death and his resilient spirit to live. Queequeg grows morbidly sick aboard the whaling vessel until resigning the hope of ever recovering he asks the carpenter to make him a coffin. He desires a “coffin-canoe …without a keel; though that involved uncertain steering and much leeway adown the dim ages” (Melville 448). This special coffin canoe floating without sails or direction on the seas is Queequeg’s pregnant statement of his philosophy of an uncertain afterlife. The physical coffin aboard the ship is a very telling sign of the impending deaths of everyone except Ishmaels. Moby Dick destroys the ship and in a series of unfortunate accidents seaman after seaman is carried down into their oceanic graves.
The coffin imagery also outlines another belief of Queequeg’s where man, barring all malicious acts, can either choose between life or death. Ishmael observes that “now that his coffin was proved a good fit, Queequeg suddenly rallied, soon there seemed no need for the carpenter’s box” (Melville 450). When asked the reason for his miraculous recuperation Queequeg replies that he remembers that he has something to do back on land. His salient point is that when one has a strong will to live, it has the potential to overcome the pangs of death. Like a true warrior, he fights death and then utilizes the same instrument of death, the coffin, as a chest to pack his paraphernalia. This action further marks his resolution to soldier on and live, and in essence, chooses his fate. “In Moby Dick fate is a common theme that threads throughout the novel. When considering what type of novel this is, fate plays a part as well (Gallo). The coffin symbol continues to represent resilience against death for seeing tough times ahead and no float, Queequeg himself comes up with the idea to fit the coffin-chest with a life buoy. This life-confirming decision saves Ishmael’s life. Surprised at the coffin’s transformation Ahab exclaims that “the very dreaded symbol of grim death but by a mere hap, made the expressive sign of the help and the hope of most endangered life. A life-buoy of a coffin!…Can it be that in some spiritual sense the coffin is after all an immortality preserver! I’ll think of that” (Melville 491). With these words Ahab simultaneously predicts its future usage as a means to preserve from death. On his close shave with death by the lifesaving coffin, Ishmael reveals that “owing to its great buoyancy, rising with great force, the coffin life-buoy shot lengthwise from the sea, fell over, and floated on my side. Buoyed up by that coffin for almost one whole day and night, I floated on a soft and dirge-like main (Melville 533). The coffin defies gravity and defies death but bobbing along the sea with Ishmael as the lone survivor. The sea has two forces – the pull of gravity and the force of aquatic buoyancy. Ishmael’s fellow crewmen are sucked by gravity’s pull into their watery graves as the ship sinks. On the other hand he is buoyed up by the coffin, which ironically metamorphoses into a signal of hope.
Scattered in the novel are people who have last name Coffin. Ishmael tells us that there existed a family of Nantucket named Coffin. These Coffins were famous whalers and seamen who pioneered whaling. Peter Coffin, Miriam Coffin, Simeon Coffin, Macey Coffin, Charley Coffin, and Captain Coffin all have a place in the novel as harbingers of death (Melville 342). Captain Coffin who supervised operations on the Syren, discovered a rich whaling field in Japan. In history the USS Syren (1803) which predates Moby Dick, is a US Navy vessel which was captured by the British Royal Navy in 1814 (USS Syren). Simeon, Macey, and Charley Coffin have an unprecedented in-depth knowledge of whales that awes Ishmael. Their last names can also be a mechanism used to point their deaths on the waters. Peter Coffin is the landlord and owner of the Spouter Inn introduces Ishmael to Queequeg. Indeed, the poetic irony is that both men become united by a coffin for Queequeg’s coffin means life for Ishmael.
In sum the coffin imagery of Moby Dick help clarify the characters’ stances on life and death issues and designate the grim outcome of Ishmael’s whaling expedition. The coffin traditionally represents death as at funerals however, with sailors who die in a tumultuous sea, coffins become superfluous. Ishmael, Ahab, Queequeg face decisions with respect to the coffin which influence both their lives and their deaths.
Portrayal Of Ahab in Moby Dick Novel
The troubled Captain’s obsessive quest for the White Whale serves as the central focus of Melville’s Moby Dick. Ahab is presented as single-minded in his pursuit of the whale while, using a mixture of charisma and terror to persuade his crew to join him. As a captain, Ahab can be dictatorial to a point of brushing off the concerns of his crew and first mate Starbuck. However, Ishmael recollects moments where Ahab is humble and compassionate to his men. An assumption made by Ahab’s distinctive characteristics in addition to what Ishmael recalls, readers judge Ahab through what is presented. Yet with the given material, the reader is unable to form a connection with Ahab.
When Ishmael is first boarding the Pequod, Ahab is merely mentioned. For a majority of the beginning, the reader is unaware of Ahab being on the Pequod. Like Moby Dick the captain’s existence comes into question. When finally introduced, Ahab is shown as a powerful enough force to gather everyone on ship to go along his vengeance, especially with a gold piece as a prize for whomever spots the whale. In this scene, Ahab manipulates his position of authority for his own gain, especially considering how he informs the crew of his MO after setting sail and having been at sea for some time. As a result, no one can turn away nor question Ahab’s tactics. In the chapter depicting the scene, Starbuck is the only one speaking up about coming aboard to “hunt whales, not [Ahab’s] vengeance” especially considering how Ahab’s motives won’t translate into pay for the crew (Melville 139). Eventually, Ahab announces the crew will hunt other whales. The choice is logical, although the decision has selfish objectives—Ahab’s job would be in jeopardy if he returned without oil and the Pequod’s failure to find Moby Dick could result in a mutiny. Nonetheless, it isn’t the only surprise Ahab brings to light.
The surprise reveal of Ahab’s own crew aboard casts more shade on an already brooding and mysterious character. This new knowledge is suspicious enough until the reader learns how Ahab went through the trouble of hiding them for months only for them to be revealed during a whale hunt. This proves Ahab to be a resourceful and clever man not just for hiding his personal crew, but revealing them at a time of mass chaos when the others wouldn’t be able to question his motives. The rest of the crew don’t form much of a bond with Ahab’s personal crew and refer to one of the members, Fedallah, as a devil and menacing figure when near the captain. His own crew guarantees Ahab a place in killing the whale that damaged him, though at the expense of the trust of his crew and Starbuck and position as a captain. Though Ahab is a damaged and greatly flawed character, Ishmael includes moments where the captain has moments of tenderness and humility. Most noble would be him finding a confidant in African-American bellboy Pip.
His inclusion in Melville’s novel serves the purpose of creating more depth and personality to the mad Ahab. He takes in the social outcast similarly acting as a Good Samaritan of sorts. The crazed Ahab is pushed aside for a more friendly and tender version. Despite Pip being a marginal character, he and Ahab complement each other: Ahab is white, Pip isn’t; Ahab is the center of the plot, Pip is irrelevant; Ahab is the top of the Pequod hierarchy, while Pip is at the bottom; Ahab is old and experienced, while Pip is young and knows little. Despite their differences, both view the world through a slightly tilted lens. Both have had near-death experiences and feel alienated from the men on board as a result of the experiences. Pip believes the two have a bond held by “weak souls.” (Melville 392) Ahab takes Pip in almost as a son allowing him to sleep in the captain’s quarters. The time lost from his own family possibly causes Ahab to project this onto Pip. Most importantly, Ahab seems to possess a sliver of sanity when around Pip going as far as to state Pip healing him. Without Ishmael mentioning Pip, Ahab’s character would only be a crazed man playing a vengeful God. There is more dimension and facets to the captain. Unfortunately, Ahab’s insistence of sending Pip back to the cabin makes Pip feel as if he has been abandoned once again and left to his own scattered mind (Melville 400). Ishmael doesn’t mention if Ahab was concerned about the matter. As a result, the reader is left questioning if Ahab truly cared about Pip.
One thing certain about Captain Ahab is Melville presenting him as the archetype of the tragic hero. As a tragic hero, Ahab possesses a flaw resulting in his downfall—a tremendous overconfidence leading him to defy common sense and believe that he can enact his whims while remaining immune to the forces of nature; one such force being his mortality. However, Ahab grows increasingly aware of his fate. As the voyage nears its end, Ahab makes attempts to mend his bond with Starbuck and laments with him over his personal identity, the family he has left in Nantucket, and the forces compelling him to continue with the journey despite knowing the encounter with Moby Dick is fated to be disastrous and fatal (Melville 405, 6). At first glance, the reader assumes Ahab desires revenge the whale for taking his leg. It is Ishmael revealing that Ahab’s monomaniacal quest to find and kill Moby Dick is the result of psychological and physical damage inflicted by a harsh world. Ahab is a broken man repaired by his hatred for the animal making him less of a man.
Further confirming Ahab not being entirely whole is his rage over the lack of one of his legs. As a result of the disability, the captain doesn’t fully walk, but the reader assumes he walks with a limp. Ishmael does reveal that when Ahab meets with other ships, he uses a boat specifically made for him and requires the assistance of his own crew to get him on and off of his boat. A pivotal moment of Ahab rendered helpless is when his ivory leg cracks and is unable to get off the floor. Like a young child, he needs the assistance of able men to bring him back. While the Pequod’s carpenter makes Ahab a new leg, he is confined to his cabin and can only reach the carpenter by leaning on a rail and hopping on his good leg. Ishmael, instead, gives his former captain a sense of nobility and dignity by stating Ahab is “advancing” to the carpenter (Melville 356, 359). The reader can interpret this as an act of kindness in not speaking ill of Ahab considering his fate or as a man needlessly glorifying another man as Ishmael doesn’t speak ill of Ahab even when he having bouts of insanity, stubbornness, and fits of violence. Ahab is a victim and an aggressor, but he isn’t an evil man. Ahab’s perception of Moby Dick as the embodiment of evil demonstrates his biased projection about what he wants to see when interpreting symbols and omens as the voyage continues.
Ishmael recollects sparse moments of Ahab questioning his revenge and quest to kill Moby Dick. One of the first moments takes place in the chapter The Sphinx. Ahab makes his way to the head of a sperm whale his crew has killed as asks the head to: “speak…tell us the secret thing that is in thee…. Where unrecorded names and navies rust, and untold hope and anchors rot; where in her murderous hold this frigate earth is ballasted with bones of millions of the drowned; there, in that awful water-land, there was thy familiar home…. where sleepless mothers would give their lives to lay them down.” (Melville 249)
Ahab’s soliloquy comes from a disturbed man’s mind. Begging for the answers to a slain whale Ahab believes has seen things that might shake the faith of Abraham—of the Bible—shows desperation in finding truth and solace about life and death in a mysterious and complicated world. In summary, Ahab is questioning himself; something happening again as the Pequod nears its final destination. The chapter before the final confrontation with the titular whale, Ahab turns to Starbuck and laments about his conceivably wasted life:
“Forty years of continual whaling! forty years of privation, and peril, and storm-time! forty years on the pitiless sea! …. forsaken the peaceful land, for forty years to make war on the horrors of the deep! …. I have not spent three ashore. When I think of the life I have led…the weariness… of solitary command… oceans away I wedded a girl… rather a widow with her husband alive!” (Melville 405)
Making Ahab’s monologue particularly heart breaking is how self-aware he appears to be about his megalomaniac pursuit of Moby Dick. Ahab recognizes his “madness, frenzy, the boiling blood” have incited him to foolishly chase the whale at the expense of leaving behind a young wife and child. Additionally, Ahab speaks of an unknown force rendering him a “cruel” and “remorseless” causing him to ignore pleas for help and offers to have a drink from other ships. He states how he wants to stay in his fury-induced state to catch the creature that made him they way the reader and Ishmael see him. Unfortunately, these motives bring him to his failed confrontation with Moby Dick and ultimately, with Death.
In conclusion, the reader is left without much of a choice; they must agree with Ishmael on his portrayal of Ahab; Ishmael is the de facto captain of Moby Dick. Agreeing with Ishmael’s memories of Ahab doesn’t provide much insight to the captain as a whole as we realize Ishmael has left out some memories and moments of him, though the theory cannot truly be proven. However, they don’t have to take the novel as the gospel truth. The reader grasps that Ishmael is telling what he considers to be the more important parts of his story and about the world he was a part of. It is as close to the perfect novel Ishmael and Melville will be able to produce and it cannot be altered to the reader’s nor Ishmael’s liking. Ishmael’s time on the Pequod and under the orders of Captain Ahab are his version of a documentary truth and as perfect of a story as he is able to feature nine years after the doomed voyage.
The Major Role of the Theme of Free Will Versus Fate in Moby Dick, a Novel by Herman Melville
The theme of free will versus fate plays a large role in Moby Dick. One’s fate can be described as the path of events in their life that unfolds and cannot be altered. However, in Moby Dick, the end result of the characters can be best described as being decided by the choices that they made while exercising their free will. The characters are in control of themselves and the events that unfold are simply results of their decisions as well as the decisions of those around them. As illustrated in Moby Dick, the events that unfold in one’s life are a result of themselves and those around them exercising free will and the decisions that are made while doing so.
Captain Ahab in Moby Dick
In Moby Dick, Captain Ahab is portrayed as having one goal in mind – killing Moby Dick and while exercising his free will, he decides that he must track down the white whale. He uses being the captain of a whaling ship looking to turn a profit as a front for himself to track down the whale that took his leg from him. He is mostly unconcerned with his duties as captain of a whaling ship and hunting whales to turn a profit as he is really only concerned with tracking down Moby Dick. This goal of finding Moby Dick directly affects everyone on board the Pequod as they were unsure of what they were getting themselves into when they decided to go aboard. The first time that Ahab officially addresses the crew, he says “it was Moby Dick that dismasted me; Moby Dick that brought me to this dead stump that I stand on now. [..] it was that accursed white whale that razeed me; made a poor pegging lubber of me for ever and a day! […] I’ll chase him round Good Hope, and round the horn […] before I give him up” (Melville, Moby Dick, 144). Ahab takes his injury to Moby Dick personally and believes it to be a sign that it’s his fate to find and kill the whale. Though he believes that it is his fate, he exercises his free will and decides that he will do anything in his power to kill the white whale, regardless of what it cost him or those around him.
In contrast to Ahab, the Captain of the Samuel Enderby states “Didn’t want to try to; ain’t one limb enough? What should I do without this other arm? And I’m thinking Moby Dick doesn’t bite so much as he swallows” (Melville 394). Like Ahab, the other ship captain also lost a limb to Moby Dick. Even though he also lost a limb, the other captain is doing his best to avoid the white whale as he doesn’t want to go through a similar experience again. By saying that the whale doesn’t bite but rather swallows, he is alluding to the idea that the whale attack was not personal and was rather just part of the nature of the whale. He doesn’t believe in tracking down the whale and certainly doesn’t believe that killing the whale is part of his fate. On the other hand, Ahab is fully committed to killing Moby Dick even at the expense of his own life and the lives of the crew. He demonstrates this when he exclaims “Death to Moby Dick! God hunt us all, if we do not hunt Moby Dick to his death!” (Melville 148). Ahab exercises his free will to make the decision to hunt Moby Dick regardless of the costs. This decision sets up the chain of events that eventually leads to everyone on the Pequod passing away besides Ishmael.
Ishmael and Queequeg in Moby Dick
Similar to Ahab, Ishmael and Queequeg both exercise their free will and make decisions throughout the story that directly impact the events that unfold in their lives. The decision to sign on to the Pequod was made by both of them through free will. Ishmael and Queequeg are approached by a stranger who asks them if that’s their ship. Ishmael responds with “’Yes,’ […] ‘we have just signed the articles’” (Melville 82). The stranger then goes on to state “’Anything down there about your souls?’” (Melville 82). This stranger is alluding to the idea that by signing onto the Pequod, they are doing more than they initially thought. By mentioning that they are signing down their souls, he is alluding to the idea that their lives will now be intertwined with Ahab and the Pequod. Had Ishmael and Queequeg not made the decision to not go onto a whaling vessel, or had they made the decision to join a different vessel, the events that would unfold and eventually lead to Queequeg’s death would not have happened.
Ishmael and Queequeg jointly make decisions that have major impacts on the both of them. Starting in the very beginning of the story, Ishmael and Queequeg share a very tight bond. This bond is best illustrated when Ishmael states “I seemed distinctly to perceive that my own individuality was now merged in a joint-stock company of two: that my free will had received a mortal wound; and that another’s mistake or misfortune might plunge innocent me into unmerited disaster and death” (Melville 287). Ishmael is referring to how he is tied to Queequeg as Queequeg is on the whales floating body trying to attach a hook. Since he is tied to Queequeg, he would also be taken down into the water were Queequeg to fall in. This makes a mistake on either end dangerous for both of them. Though it seems as though fate would take over at this point since they are both at the mercy of each other as well as external forces such as the water and potential sharks, they have both made the decision to be in this position together. Since they have made the decision to work together through their own free will and they know exactly the situation that they are in, the events that unfold are not left up to chance, so it cannot be considered fate.
Starbuck in Moby Dick
Similar to how both Ishmael and Queequeg make decisions that impact the events that unfold, Starbuck exercises his free will to make decisions that have a potential to completely alter the course of his life. Starbuck is able to understand the situation that he is in better than the other characters. He knows what the outcome of being on Ahab’s ship may be as he states “My soul is more than matched; she’s overmanned; and by a madman! Insufferable sting, that sanity should ground arms on such a field! But he drilled deep down and blasted all my reason out of me! I think I see his impious end; but feel that I must help him to it” (Melville 150). Starbuck knows that Ahab is a madman and that his soul belongs to him as long as he is on the ship. He believes that the end of this journey will not turn out well for anyone, yet he doesn’t feel the need to act at this point. Starbuck feels as though Ahab has taken the reasoning that he had out of him as he knows what the outcome of this journey may very well be. He feels as though he should help Ahab in his journey to find Moby Dick even though he knows that Ahab is a madman. He exercises his free will be deciding to accompany Ahab on the journey.
Starbuck eventually reaches a point where he has to make a decision regarding killing Ahab or not. As the story progresses, Starbuck continues to be uneasy about Ahab and the journey that he is leading the crew on. This uneasiness reaches its peak when Starbuck is close to killing Ahab. Towards the end of story, Starbuck is holding a musket near Ahab while he sleeps and says “But shall this crazed old man be tamely suffered to drag a whole ship’s company down to doom with him? […] And would I be a murderer, then if’ – and slowly, stealthily, and half sideways looking, he placed the loaded musket’s end against the door […] Starbuck seemed wrestling with an angel; but turning from the door, he placed the death-tube in its rack, and left the place” (Melville 455-456). Starbuck knows that Ahab and his madness will end up dragging the ship down with him, so by killing him, he would avoid that outcome. Had Starbuck went ahead and killed Ahab, the Pequod would have not chased after Moby Dick and would most likely not have sunk, therefore saving the lives of the crew. As illustrated when Melville writes that it seemed as if Starbuck was wrestling with an angel, Starbuck struggled to make the decision. In the end, he exercised his free will and decided to not kill Ahab. This decision is what sets the course for the end of the story. The decision to let Ahab live is Starbuck deciding to go along with Ahab even though he knows the outcome will most likely lead to his death.
It could be argued that the events that unfold in Moby Dick and more specifically when the Pequod sinks is a direct result of fate. It may seem as though the ship was fated to be doomed from the very beginning and there wasn’t anything that anyone could do about it. This idea is best illustrated in the very beginning of the novel when Ishmael states “Though I cannot tell you why it was exactly that those stage managers, the Fates, put me down for this shabby part of the whaling voyage […] various disguise, induced me to set about performing the part that I did […] chief among these motives was the overwhelming idea of the great whale himself” (Melville 5). Ishmael states that it was the fates that put him on the fateful voyage to search for Moby Dick yet he also states that it was his desire to learn more about the whale that put him in the role that he played. He was not forced into being a crew member on the Pequod, but rather he exercised his free will and chose to do that. Like Ishmael, both Queequeg and Starbuck, as well as the rest of the crew members, chose to join the Pequod’s crew. Though it was Ahab’s decisions that ended up bringing about the fateful end to the Pequod, the crew members, especially Starbuck, could have overthrown or even killed Ahab. This would have brought about an end to the Moby Dick chase.
The culmination of the Pequod’s journey and the end results for the members of the crew is a result of decisions that they made through exercising their free will rather than a result of fate. It would be incorrect to state the culmination of the Pequod and Pequod’s crew’s journey was a result of a chain of events that couldn’t be altered. The crew members were aware of Ahab’s madness and the situation he was getting them all into, yet they never did anything about it even though they had numerous opportunities to. Instead of trying to alter the path that they were on, the crew members chose to be complacent and follow Ahab’s orders. This is what led to the sinking of the Pequod and the deaths of all the crew members, besides Ishmael.
The Metaphor and Symbolism Behind the White Whale
The white whale at the center of Herman Melville’s masterpiece Moby-Dick is often considered to be one of the most symbolic characters in American literature. In part, this is because not only can the white whale mean many different things to each reader, but because it also is explicitly delineated as having different meanings to the tale’s various characters. Although Captain Ahab’s pursuit of the white whale is the centerpiece of the story, the other characters also reflect upon the whale’s significance and it becomes a directly symbolic agent even within the direct narrative.
For Captain Ahab, Moby-Dick represents the personification of everything that has, is or will be evil in the world. That is, at least, the opinion that Ishmael holds of what Ahab thinks of Moby-Dick, as he says, “All evil, to crazy Ahab, were visibly personified, and made practically assailable in Moby Dick” (154). Ahab’s malice stems from the whale’s theft of his leg, a 19th-century Puritanical substitute for the body part that Melville was forbidden to write about: Ahab’s penis. The loss of his leg is a symbolic stand-in for the loss of Captain Ahab’s manhood, which is really what was destroyed by Moby-Dick. Few events could be more evil than that to a hard-edged, embittered 19th-century sailor.
Ahab aches to transform Moby-Dick into a symbol of every conception of evil that has existed in the world, from the serpent slithering through the Garden of Eden onward, but ultimately Moby-Dick is reduced to being nothing more than a symbol for all the small offenses that men desire to construct into universal evils. At one point Ahab actually refers to the personal what he attempts to universalize when he says, “it was Moby-Dick that dismasted me; Moby-Dick that brought me to this dead stump I stand on now…it was that accursed white whale that razeed me; made a poor begging lubber of me for ever and a day!” (138). Descriptive words such as “dismast” and “dead stump” carry deep rooted connotations of impotence—both in the sexual sense as well as the larger sense of being incapable of carrying out one’s duties or desires. Moby-Dick took away Ahab’s ability to stand on his own two feet, literally, but also took away his indepenence.
Ahab describes Moby-Dick as inscrutable, but that is merely Ahab wanting to imbue Moby-Dick with an element of almost supernatural abilities, as something that is beyond comprehension. For Ahab, Moby-Dick is evil the way that everything mysterious always has been and always will be evil: because people do not want to make the effort to understand the object of their dread. Ahab refuses even to try to understand what Starbuck might describe as pure beastly instinct, because the ignorance makes it easier to categorize Moby-Dick as pure malevolence. He says, “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” (139). Ahab’s choosing to wreak his hate upon Moby-Dick is an attempt to turn the white whale into something sentient: not just a carrier of evil, but a creator of evil.
Ahab reaches the point where his need to infuse the whale with these attributes becomes obsessive. It takes imagination to become obsessive, however, and in that regard Ahab stands in direct contrast to Starbuack who refuses to instill any symbolism in the whale at all. Starbuck views Ahab as wanting merely to exact “vengeance on a dumb brute…that simply smote thee from blindest instinct!” (138). If what Starbuck says it true, then there is nothing standing between Ahab and pure madness. The only way that Ahab can escape this description is if Ishmael truly means it when he writes that “the White Whale’s infernal aforethought of ferocity, that every dismembering or death that he caused, was not wholly regarded as having been inflicted by an unintelligent agent” (154). If these words are the truth, if there actually is an element of consciousness that can be attributed to Moby-Dick’s actions, then it remains possible for Ahab to escape accusations of madness and monomania.
Of course, the idea that consciousness of that level does exist would be madness itself, at least based on what is known of whales and other animals so far. No evidence suggests that other animals possess the capability of malice aforethought. More likely the whale’s symbolic reality is expressed in another observation by Ishmael. Ishmael captures the essence of how the whale is representative of each individual’s consciousness when he observes that “by its indefiniteness it shadows forth the heartless voids and immensities of the universe” (164). Ahab has let the darker part of his nature take over his personality and sees that in the whale, while Starbuck’s lack of imagination will only let him see the whale as dumb, brute beast. The whale is white, an unprismed conglomerate of the promise of all colors. Those colors are revealed only through the prism of each man’s unique consciousness, much like Moby-Dick’s meaning.
The Symbolic Layer of The Grand Armada Chapter
Melville’s novel, Moby Dick, is filled with symbolism and messages that relate to human behavior and the effects of that on the world. This is shown in Chapter 87 ‘The Grand Armada,’ which takes place while the Pequod is traveling through straits. Here, they encounter a large herd of whales, contrary to how whales usually travel, which in the sperm whale case, is solitarily. There was also a pirate ship that was in pursuit of the The Pequod. The Pequod speeds away from the Pirate ship and towards the whales, and they end up killing a whale. Within the chapter, Melville explores philosophical thoughts and ideas, such as isolation. However, the philosophical thoughts of Ishmael are not the only important parts of the chapter. The actual behavior of the whales and the crew of the Pequod are important since they reflect on the effect of humans on nature. ‘The Grand Armada’ is a chapter that expresses the innate actions of animals and the negative effect of humans on the world. It also relates to human nature, which is shown in Gilbert’s essay, since the occurrences in this chapter relate to Gilbert’s views on human behavior, as well as some of my own.
‘The Grand Armada’ is an important chapter in the novel since it showcases a motif of the book, man versus nature. This is shown through the behavior of the whales. In this chapter, Ishmael and the Pequod encounter a large pod of whales traveling together for safety. However, before humans started hunting whales, sperm whales were usually solitary or in small pods. This change in behavior of the whales show the negative effect of human activity on nature. Another important part of this chapter is how the crew members react to the pirate ship and the whales. They speed away from the pirate ship, which in a way, was hunting the Pequod, but towards the whales, to hunt them. This is ironic since the Pequod was running away from a ship that they did not believe had the right to harm them, but went to murder whales instead. This is possible since most of the crew view the whales as inferior creatures that are meant to be killed for human benefit. However, Melville calls this into question when Ishmael’s boat is trapped in the center of the herd, where things are mostly calm. Here, they observe the whales and their human- like characteristics. For example, Melville includes a passage about mother whales and their calves. This shows the crew members in the boat that whales are not inferior creatures that do not mean anything since the actual families are shown to them. ‘The Grand Armada’ is a chapter that shows the importance of nature and counters the idea of human superiority and anthropocentrism.
‘The Grand Armada’ is also important due to the relationship it has with the real world and people’s lives. Although people do not usually see herds of whales on a daily basis, the symbolism and philosophical thoughts of Ishmael are relatable and relevant to everyone. In this chapter, Ishmael ponders about isolation as well as calm when his boat was trapped in the center of the ring, there was chaos around them due to the instinct and distress of the whales. However, the boat was in a relatively calm place since there were whales circling them, resulting in a steady position where they could observe their surroundings. Ishmael called this the center of the storm and noted how he had that center of calm, even when there is chaos around him. Melville writes, “we were now in that enchanted calm which they say lurks at the heart of every commotion.” (Melville, 423). This relates to Gilbert since in his essay, he references the “moment of calm and metaphysical understanding… the near constant human attempt to bring those polarities together” (Gilbert, 3). This shows that although ‘The Grand Armada’ is set in a herd of whales, Ishmael’s thoughts of isolation and calm are relevant to everyone since they relate to more than just whaling.
Another way that this chapter is relevant to normal life is the idea of wanting more than necessary. This is shown in the actions of the whalers since they tried to mark and harm more whales than they could manage or even bring to the Pequod. The process of “drugging” is a cruel and barbaric practice, in my opinion, since there was no way the harpooners were going to be able to kill all of the whales they harmed. They merely attacked multiple whales for the convenience and possibility of killing one or two more, which is shown when Melville states “more whales are close round you than you can possibly chase at one time…you must wing them, so that they can be afterwards killed at your leisure.” (422). In the end, they only ended up actually killing one, so all of the other whales that were harpooned were wounded for no reason. This showcases the theme of greed since the whalers were harming an unnecessary amount of whales, especially since they were not going to be able to kill and take all of them anyways. This relates to human life since in society, there are those who take more than needed at the cost of others. This idea is firmly rooted in multiple systems such as capitalism, monarchies, and oligarchies, due to the uneven separation of money and power, as well as the usual effect of exploitation, ‘The Grand Armada’ exposes a part of human nature and society and brings the reader to question their own actions and community.
‘The Grand Armada’ is a crucial chapter in the story due to Melville’s inclusion of multiple themes and motifs. This chapter re-explores the idea of mankind and civilization versus nature through the changes in the behavior of the whales due to human interference. Also, the idea of anthropocentrism is questioned by showing the reactions to the harpoons as well as the families of the whale pod. This chapter also relates to the lives of the readers due to the philosophical thought of Ishmael concerning isolation and peacefulness. A more negative aspect of human nature, greed, is also brought to light in this chapter through the act of “drugging.” This shows that although the chapter is about hunting whales, it is a chapter that shows the negative aspects of human nature and society.
The Racial Discourse and Racial Perception in Melville’s Novel
When you meet someone new, perhaps the best thing to do is not to “judge a book by its cover,” but is not doing so that a possibility in the world we live in? Not only relevant to today, judgment based on physical attributes traces back to the 1850s, when enslavement of Africans was justified by whites having lighter skin color. The novel Moby Dick by Herman Melville explores the topic of race and how it correlates with status. Melville expresses the hierarchy of society with whites at the top, expressing their superiority over the non-whites, but simultaneously sheds a positive light on the non-whites, in some cases portraying them as more worthy of respect.
Moby Dick shows the ignorance of the whites through the stereotypes they make about non-whites, and their assumptions that any skin color deviant from the color white is considered “savage.” When Ishmael initially encounters Queequeg the native of Kokovoko, he solely relies on the makeup of Queequeg’s skin to determine if he was worthy or not of being a roommate. Ishmael observes and determines, “Such a face! It was of dark, purplish, yellow color… stuck over with large, blackish looking squares… he’s a terrible bedfellow; he’s been in a fight… falling among the cannibals” (Melville 23). These three assumptions Ismael immediately made were based upon a “story” he heard from another man, and he is simply applying the same negative associations with a stranger with certain marks on his body. Soon enough, however, although at first somewhat skeptical of Queequeg’s trustworthiness, Ishmael gains this “former cannibal” as his “other half,” and avoids clinging on to his first impressions. This proves that not only did whites have a solid opinion towards non-whites, but any man who overcame this barrier may have been capable of finding themselves wrong in stereotyping. It also shows that the bodily features of a man may not reflect his personality, but affect white men because they believe lightness makes them more superior, in effect affecting the way the non-whites are treated.
In the novel, the actions of the whites towards non-whites portray an unconditional superiority of the whites and submissiveness of the non-whites, and the whites as being reckless. The laborer hierarchy is determined by race; the Pequod is made up of men of many races, but the whites at times abused their powers. For example, Stubb’s cook was the negro Flask, and one night Stubb interrupted his sleep just to tell him that his shark dish was not cooked properly: “Stubb… cried… “Cook, you cook!– sail this way!” The old black… roused from his warm hammock…”don’t you think this steak is rather overdone?” (321). Stubb awoke his chef about a minuscule matter, and Flask could not do anything about it. This shows that non-whites think they have the right to do anything to favor themselves, even if it means a violation of the non-white or an inappropriate act. Stubb keeps his right to “power” by bossing Flask around simply for his own entertainment, and exerting his own importance before that of Flask’s. In the speech that Flask gives to the sharks, he implies that Stubb is also in some ways similar to the shark, and mis-aligns with Stubb’s thoughts of himself being exclusive in his abilities to do what he wants without being penalized. In addition, the same man, Stubb, received a black boy, Pip, who is frightened and periodically jumps off the ship, and Stubb warns him to not do so. He states, “Stick to the boat, Pip, or I won’t pick you up if you jump…We can’t afford to lose whales …. a whale would sell for thirty times what you would, Pip” (452). Not only does Stubb express his rules in simplified language to Pip, he also devalues Pip in relation to a whale. This demonstrates the white man’s social dominance and ability to explicitly place the black man under an animal, which is the way the white man perceived them to be. However, although the white men rule over the black ones, their motives prove themselves inferior in terms of morality, and dehumanizing the blacks show that they are not able to interact with others who differ from them.
Through Ishmael, Moby Dick also elaborates on the meaning of whiteness, creating a contradiction between the whites and the actual meaning of the color. Ishmael states, “Whiteness refiningly enhances beauty… in it applies to the human race itself, giving the white man mastership over every dusky tribe…. yet … lurks an elusive something… which strikes more panic to the soul” (204-205). The traditional meaning of white is shown by him to be of religious significance, showing clarity and a high status. However, he interprets the whites to be the opposite, as creating confusion. Just as colors seen are those reflected, as white is a combination of all colors, the white men do not show their “true colors” and are difficult to understand, as is the white whale. On the contrary, some people may argue that although the white men are shown with having more power, the colored men are not shown to be more deserving of high opinion. One example may be of Pip when he is told by Stubb to stop jumping– Pip does not jump once, but does so twice after given the rules, and this shows that he is not able to follow the rules. However, Pip jumps because he is scared as anyone would be on their first day of a novel job, black or white. Either way, Stubb has no right to call Pip less worthy of being saved than a whale. In addition, there is a scene where a white man goes on top of a black one: “The sight of little Flask mounted upon gigantic Daggoo… the bearer looked nobler than the rider” (241). Although the white man here is on top of the black one, he is smaller and he is literally dependent on the non-white man for everything, as is a large portion of the Pequod for physical labor.
Moby Dick shows the white men as higher in status given their power over the whites, but also expresses their lack of sentiment and regard for others, placing the non-whites higher than them in terms of reverence and merit. The inability of the whites to interact in equal terms with the non-whites hinders the development of the Pequod, creating unnecessary conflict. The friendship between Ishmael and Queequeg provides Americans with the thought that regardless of the past, the future can be full of harmony between people of different races, and that they can coexist peacefully.
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.