Herman Melville’s Moby Dicky: A look at the path of Ishmael in developing the personal qualities
Self-Development: companionship cultivation
In Herman Melville’s novel, Moby Dick, Ishmael, the protagonist, undergoes a series of stages in the development of his personal qualities. As Ishmael ventures further out of his comfort zone and experiences life-changing moments together with his newfound acquaintance, Queequeg, Ishmael’s character is cultivated from an unaware, ignorant person to a much more refined, conscious individual. Although Ishmael did not entirely seek refuge or camaraderie with other parties, Ishmael’s interaction with new people developed the theme of companionship as salvation from his oblivious and judgmental nature.
Ishmael’s original oblivious nature upon meeting Queequeg underscores the commencing development of the theme of companionship as salvation. After meeting Queequeg for the first time, Ishmael criticizes Queequeg’s appearance and behavior, which he continues to do so until they familiarize with each other. Ishmael states that “[Queequeg] was just enough civilized to show off his outlandishness in the strangest possible manners” (70). Ishmael’s statement clearly reveals how judgmental he already is in the beginning of novel, refusing the show any kind of acceptance of Queequeg’s personality. Ishmael then continues on to say, “if he had not been a small degree civilized, he probably would not have troubled himself with boots at all” (70). As shown in his descriptions of Queequeg, Ishmael does not convey a welcoming or friendly nature toward Queequeg. He is quick to distinguish Queequeg as a “savage,” essentially bestowing the hostile nickname on him. Considering that the novel takes place in the mid-1800s, the word “savage” would denote a much harsher connotation. Ishmael basically believes that he is supreme to Queequeg, which conveys Ishmael’s oblivious nature in the fact that he doesn’t know anything about Queequeg.
As the story progress Ishmael’s supercilious nature is cultivated through his continued interaction with Queequeg, promoting the theme of companionship as salvation. Once Queequeg begins to open up his life story and Ishmael grows accustomed to Queequeg’s daily habits, Ishmael begins to understand and accept Queequeg for himself. For instance, as Queequeg participates in his own religious activity and invites Ishmael, Ishmael “thought he seemed anxious for [him] to join,” but had “deliberated a moment whether, in case he invited him” (113). Ishmael can be seen to initially be relatively reluctant in joining Queequeg, however Ishmael then continues his statement to say, “I would comply or otherwise,” revealing that he at least considers the option. In fact, Ishmael does not make any critical comments of Queequeg’s religious beliefs, instead Ishmael grows from that experience and eventually calls himself and Queequeg a “cosy, loving pair,” showing that the companionship is beginning to liberate Ishmael from the oblivious, ignorant attitude he had at first.
Looking further into the novel, Ishmael matured much more in his behavior, further exposing the companionship as salvation as the novel’s motif. After meeting Captain Ahab, Queequeg’s bravery and quick actions in the coming predicament allows Ishmael to finally see the good in him. Ishmael states that “all hands voted Queequeg a noble trump … from that hour I clove to Queequeg like a barnacle,” to show his newfound admiration for Queequeg (130). This development elucidates how much Ishmael really matured. He is accepting of Queequeg, and even seems to be not judgmental but rather open-eyed to the ideas he thinks about, such as regarding religion, Ishmael states “we good Presbyterian Christians should be charitable in these things, and not fancy ourselves so vastly superior to other mortals” (166). Ishmael’s cultivated nature could have only been developed through Queequeg’s continuous resilience in dealing with Ishmael’s original personality.
Throughout the novel, Ishmael stage of developments is owed to the deepening companionship he has with Queequeg. Queequeg allows Ishmael to undergo life-changing experiences that allow Ishmael to elevate his thoughts through consistent communication and expression of new activities Ishmael has not seen.
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.
The Romanticism and Character’s Personal Struggles
In Moby-Dick by Herman Melville, the struggle between the Romantic, religious, and at times over-emotional intent of characters and their reasonable nature creates the complexities faced on the Pequod, the ship captained by Ahab. This competition sharpens with the believed influence of God in the issues of man, shown by the multitude of appeals by characters like Ahab. Romanticism, after all, allows one to ignore the factual reality of events that occur and instead lets one assign one’s own values and meanings to situations.
On the third and last day of the chase for Moby-Dick, Ahab defines the dichotomy found in man while searching for a sight of the whale: “Here’s food for thought, had Ahab time to think; but Ahab never thinks; he only feels, feels, feels; that’s tingling enough for mortal man! to think’s audacity. God only has that right and privilege. Thinking is, or ought to be, a coolness and a calmness; and our poor hearts throb, and our poor brains beat too much for that” (419). The repetition of “think” in the monologue emphasizes the distinction from the other repeated word “feel”. Ahab means to clearly demonstrate a duality that exists within a person regarding emotion, or Romanticism, and thought, or reason. Although both halves exist, the only active part of a man should be his feelings, as reason belongs to God. Ahab notes that “to think’s audacity”, calling the utilization of thought blasphemy, as such a power remains God’s “privilege”; this connotes a superiority of reason over emotion. This ranking of the parts creates a greater complexity as Ahab wants men to choose the inferior side, perhaps because he believes that men are not worthy, or not able, to think properly. However, Ahab attempts to be the God of his crew through the utilization of feelings and his absolute will, persuading his men to do exactly as he desires them to. The irony of this situation, as Ahab acknowledges emotion as inferior to reason and yet wills his feelings to subjugate his crew, demonstrates Ahab’s drive to become God of his ship, yet a “God” aware that he’s lower and imperfect. Indeed, he mentions that the calmness required for thought cannot be found in men due to the rapidity and ferocity with which emotions control their weak bodies, through making their “poor hearts throb” and “poor brains beat”. These phrases also link the emotional to the irrational, as shown by the vibrancy of the action fueled by feelings, further showing the Romantic nature of Ahab. This philosophy of Ahab indicates the great disconnect from reality that Ahab expresses in his actions and world view.
Ahab’s Romantic intentions cause him to emphasize the emotional and even the irrational, rejecting reasonable and logical situations. Ahab continues to hunt Moby-Dick, utilizing his fatalist sentiment, that he’s fated to kill the whale, to motivate his urges; indeed, logically thinking about the outcome of fighting Moby-Dick, accounting for past experiences and warnings from others, would lead Ahab to dismiss the chase. Although Ahab’s fatalism drives him to continue searching for Moby-Dick and favor his need for revenge over logical consequences, his Romantic nature starts this negative trend. In order to not dwell on the probable doom from attempting to kill the whale, Ahab inserts a form of optimism by not analyzing the chances of success, but instead only on his feelings for revenge. By not thinking about the risks the journey truly entails, but just the joy he will feel with completing his quest, Ahab demonstrates why he only feels. Indeed, Ahab knows that he must use these feelings to motivate himself, and perhaps even thinks he has to do so, because these emotions of rage will provide a greater chance to continue and succeed in his destiny. Ahab also appeals to God to accomplish this goal, showing a religious devotion that corresponds to his perception of the world. He again demonstrates his God-like reign on the ship, by progressing from how “Ahab never thinks” to calling thinking for any man sinful. In this manner, Ahab uses his feelings, completely subjective opinions, to create his own meaning of events that greatly differs from the realistic nature of the past and present.
Ahab’s tirade against Starbuck’s accusation that he’s putting everyone through arduous work for a whale further invokes the Romanticized nature of Ahab and his view of events: “Take off thine eye! more intolerable than fiends’ glarings is a doltish stare! So, so; thou reddenest and palest; my heat has melted thee to anger-glow. But look ye, Starbuck, what is said in heat, that thing unsays itself. There are men from whom warm words are small indignity. I meant not to incense thee” (140). Ahab utilizes words such as “reddenest”, “heat”, “melted”, “anger-glow”, “warm words”, and “incense” in a motif of heat through this monologue to emphasize the ferocity of emotion he feels due to what he perceives as Starbuck’s baseless complaint. Ahab construes the meaning of Starbuck’s inquiry as a challenge to his plans instead of a genuine worry from a friend, which demonstrates how a Romantic nature can distract from reasonable thought. Ahab’s Romantic intentions cause him to see himself as the most important character in his narrative and cause him to fit events that occur in the past and present as either in support of or opposed to his destiny. This behavior also makes Ahab regard anything that does not agree with his fatalism as inferior, like Starbuck, whom he notes as having a “doltish stare”, which connotes a complete lack of respect for his first-mate. Indeed, Ahab sees Starbuck’s outburst as worse than a “fiends’ glarings”, which calls upon a Biblical allusion to relate Starbuck, who opposes his plans, to a creature from Hell. In yet another appeal to religion, Ahab demonstrates how strongly he feels that his path is the righteous one and that those who confront him do so from a diabolical or nefarious standpoint.
The Romantic nature of Ahab can also be found in Pip, although in a more perverse way. As the crew rescues Pip from drowning, Ishmael talks of the Romantic change that occurs to Pip in the water. “He saw God’s foot upon the treadle of the loom, and spoke it; and therefore his shipmates called him mad. So man’s insanity is heaven’s sense; and wandering from all mortal reason, man comes at last to that celestial thought, which, to reason, is absurd and frantic; and weal or woe, feels then uncompromised, indifferent as his God” (321-2). As Pip is drowning, in a near-death situation, he knows that no logical thinking could save him, leaving him only with the emotion of hope. Thus, he believes that God rescued him from drowning, noted by seeing “God’s foot upon the treadle of the loom”; this idea omits the fact that in reality Pip’s crewmates saved him from death, showing why “his shipmates called him mad”. This example shows how one can construe factual reality to assign one’s own meaning and emotions to events. Indeed, the passage talks about how once a man wanders from reason, he “comes at last” to celestial thought; this shows that an appeal to heaven is often man’s last resort, as it was the case of Pip. This absence of will Pip now has directly contrasts with the absolute will Ahab possesses in defining his future, although both arise from abandoning reason in favor of having “heaven’s sense” guide their world view. This faith in a higher power relates to Ahab’s view of God and the general destruction Romanticism causes on logic.
The emotionally fueled Romanticism causes issues with perceiving reality that affect both Ahab and Pip. Yet Ishmael, more reasonable than the other two, sees that an appeal to God appears illogical to the reasonable man, as reason makes God “indifferent” if a man is hurt; this idea draws a sharp contrast with the love of God that an emotional, or “insane”, man has. This appears true in Pip’s case especially, in which not God but Pip’s crewmates saved him from death. Still, Pip turns his trust from his crewmates, who he should depend on for emergencies on the ship, and instead places his fate with God. This view connects to Ahab’s sentiment of fatalism, also fueled by how Ahab emotionally perceives God; however, Pip’s fatalism has no center, but rather just the notion that any direction his destiny goes relies on God. Nonetheless, the emotional connection to God that both feel explains why Ahab gives Pip preferential treatment later, because Ahab notices the God-directed narrative that Pip creates after his near-death encounter. In this manner, both men utilize emotion derived from a Romanticized view of the world to manufacture their own subjective narrative of past events.
The Romanticism of Melville’s characters ultimately warps the reality of events to create personalized narratives. Ahab mentions the necessity of feelings over thoughts in humans and acknowledges human inability to utilize reason; he also places importance on himself, the individual, even when irrational. Pip also reveals that placing faith in God causes a similar focus on Romanticism and a disregard for logical thought, indicating the fatalism both characters possess. The complexities one faces in reconciling Romanticism with logical thought carried on in Transcendentalism. This trend emerged from the qualities of Romanticism coming from Europe to America, showing a continuation of self-importance and emphasis on emotions — an emphasis of the kind that defined the mania of Captain Ahab.
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.