“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.
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