Herman Melville’s Moby Dicky: A look at the path of Ishmael in developing the personal qualities

January 12, 2021 by Essay Writer

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.

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