Throughout Moby Dick, several different relationships are presented, from the close one between Queequeg and Ishmael to the conflicting ones between Ahab and Starbuck or Stubb. The article “Melville’s Sociality” explores the importance of community and relationships for individuals.
“The racial community of mankind, to which the individual owed not only his physical existence but intellectual and ethical values, was always supplemented by the social community in which the individual lived,” (37). People learn through experiences with other individuals, and society as a whole, on what is acceptable behavior and sometimes emotions and thoughts, just like we discussed with Marcuse. “Some virtues a man may acquire in solitude – such as, perhaps, self-reliance, truth, benevolent goodness; but he cannot acquire charity, love, beneficient goodness” (49). Those who refuse to become a part of society will only partially develop; they will become self-centered and narrow-minded as well as someone looked down upon from the community.
“Sailors, often presented unflatteringly by Melville, are what society and their circumstances make them” (37). Society and interaction with other individuals helps to make us who we are. This is the nurture spectrum of the nature vs. nurture argument. “But enough can be suggested to show that the individual, in Melville’s opinion, was to some extent limited by …a force which was evil rather than good” (39). This could probably go hand-in-hand with the possibility that Melville sees people as naturally dark or evil and that we are socialized to be good, as seen on page 60 where Ishmael states that man can only feel his true self when he closes his eyes. Ahab’s demeanor could be explained through the fact that he refuses the company of society and was therefore not socialized to be good. Instead, he is completely centered on one goal. In his eyes, this may be determination and passion while society may believe this to be insanity.
“‘Nothing can lift the heart of man Like manhood in a fellow man’” (37) is a quote used by the author from one of Melville’s Civil War poems. This could explain the relationship between Ishmael and Queequeg. Although it has been argued in class that their relationship is sexual, another argument could be that they simply depend on one another for comfort. “But despite all Melville’s awareness of the evils and inadequacies of society and civilization, he knew that the individual’s physical and spiritual welfare is by no means independent of the social group” (37). Ishmael was in a very deep depression before he met and found companionship with Queequeg. Queequeg, on the other hand, could have a close relationship with Ishmael as a result of his upbringing: “In Typee [Melville] had applauded the ‘instinctive feeling of love’ in the breasts of the natives, who among themselves ‘appeared to form one household, whose members were bound together by the ties of strong affection.’” (47). Queequeg could have become close with Ishmael as a result of being away from his home culture and wishing to reconnect with it.
The article discusses the absence of society for certain characters by explaining how Melville believed in relationships between people: “Melville had opposed the transcendentalists’ approval of solitude and self-reliance by revealing the distortion which accompanied the individual’s arrogant separation from his fellows,” (49), and “Melville could believe that although man can not rely upon Nature he may (or must) rely upon mankind.” (43). The author goes on to argue that Melville demonstrates this with the individualists within several of his works. Ahab is a major individualist; he keeps to himself, he is in constant deep thought, he remains in his cabin for long periods of time, etc. He refuses to create any ties to anyone on the Pequod. Ahab’s individualism led to his demise, even though we have yet to cover this part of the novel.
I agree with the author in saying that society and relationships have a large impact on who we are or become. Like the saying, “choose your friends wisely”, we learn how to behave and think according to our surroundings and relationships with other people. Those who become individualists may be more selfish and will do as they please without first contemplating how it affects the group, and this may lead to their demise. “Though the individual may die, the community must live on, whole and sound. Unlike Ahab, who was dragged down to his death,” (49).
Melville, Herman. Moby-Dick. New York: Harper & Brothers, Publishers. 1851.
“Melville’s Sociality.” American Literature 17.1 (1945): 33. Academic Search Premier. EBSCO. Web. 26 Feb. 2011.