Monday, February 21, 2011

Open Thread for Melville, Day 2. Also, pay attention!

Note - everyone needs to bring their bible to class tomorrow (remember, you're supposed to have a copy at least available to you for this class).  If a few of you don't have them, we can manage, but if you don't have a copy and can't get one before class, go here, locate the book of Jonah, and print up a copy (don't print the whole thing!).  Just search for the word "Jonah" - the book begins with the second occurance of the word.  It's very short.


  1. I found the chapter regarding the symbolism of the color white interesting. I was always taught that white is a symbol for something pure, angelic, simple, etc. But I never thought of it as adding a factor of terror.

    This got me wondering, if the ship is supposed to symbolize the world as discussed in class, then what does Moby Dick symbolize?

  2. I would like to continue Chelsea's question. I think, perhaps sooner than later, an entire class dedicated to the symbolism of this book would do wonders for comprehending it.

    As I read, I was thinking of the Ship as America. With this in mind, I thought of Peleg and Bildad as being opposites, complimentary to each other - I began to think of political parties and religions. The whole of ADVOCATE seemed liked a take on the American psyche, Manifest Destiny, and all that. On that train of thought, the endless and dangerous hunt for Moby Dick seemed like the quest for power that nations fight over every day.

    As we talked about in class, this is essentially a novel about whaling. But it's a lot more than that and I'm not really getting much out of it considering the shroud of symbolism.

  3. We had discussed the fact that Moby Dick was ridden with sexual, particularly homosexual, references. While it is clear that Ishmael and Quequeeg do indeed have a very close relationship for two men at the time, I see no evidence that they are in fact having a sexual relationship.

    Does the fact that they have a percieved sexual relationship change anything regarding the book? It seems as though its merely a speculation not fact, and therefore does such an interpretation matter?

  4. Two parts of the beginning of this week’s reading stuck out for me.

    First, one word seems to come up a lot: coffin. In our first week of reading Moby Dick it was the name of the Spouter-Inn’s owner, Peter Coffin. When Ishmael had said Coffin was a common name in Nantucket on page 11, I brushed it aside. However, when I saw the name multiple times in this week’s reading, such as Miriam Coffin and Charley Coffin, it made me think: is this name really so much of a coincidence, or was this some type of foreshadowing Melville is making? Whaling is a very dangerous and deadly occupation, and perhaps Melville is letting the reader know a “coffin” will be needed in the future?

    Also, I really liked in chapter 33: “The Specksynder” where it was explained more about whaling and how the men all “depend for their profits, not upon fixed wages, but upon their common luck, together with their common vigilance, intrepidity, and hard work” (159). This immediately reminded me of something extremely similar that goes on today: Alaskan crab fishing, which can be seen on one of my favorite television shows: “Deadliest Catch.” Whereas in “Moby Dick” they are hunting whales for profit, in “Deadliest Catch” they are hunting crab for profit, and the amount of money they make depends on how much prey they bring back. I liked being able to connect this book written decades ago with something happening in our current events.

  5. In chapter 39, liked the quote "Because a laugh's the wisest, easiest answer to all that's queer..." I just think this is very true and never really thought of it before this. Also, are they drunk in this chapter?

    Chapter 40, I like how Melville shows where all the different sailors are from. I am taking this as people can be from anywhere and of different cultures but they can still sit down and have common interests. Just a good chapter on diversity I guess.

    Chapter 42, I really liked the whole discussion on whiteness. I liked how he showed the good and the bad of it, and I am curious if this is supposed to reflect the white race in any way from Melville's point of view?

    In chapter 54, I found it interesting that throughout the story being told, death was very expected and wasn't elaborated on at all. It's like not a big deal at all that men die when out whaling, when to a normal person death is a very big deal. It's like the men were seen as just another tool lost to the whale hunt. I guess this kind of relates to Marcuse's view of how people are.

    In chapter 64, I feel like there is deffinately racial tension and degration towards the cook because he was black. It was really awful how they were talking to the poor old guy.

    Other random comments that I have is that I feel like this book could have been shortened. There are like 4 chapters to the art of whales. Im sure there is a good reason for it, but what I got from the end of chapter 32 is that this book wasn't edited, whatever Melville was thinking at the time is what went down on paper, and then just published; "This whole book is but a draught- nay, but the draught of a draught. Oh, Time, Strength, Cash, and Patience!"

    Also what happened to Queequeg and Ishmael's relationship? Ever since pretty much the begining of the book Queequeg's name is hardly ever brought up anymore, did something happen and I missed it?

  6. I, like Chelsea, was fascinated by the intense focus on the whiteness of the whale.

    Is there some inherent racial or societal implication in this statement? We've already discussed that Ishmael's wanting to be called Ishmael implies that he is looking for goodness in different places than the rest of the world (seeing Queequeg and other "natives" as powerful and admirable.) I just wonder whether it's a coincidence that whiteness is viewed in a different light with the whale, or whether Melville intended for readers to consider reversing their symbolic association of white with goodness.

  7. Although this is technically from last week's reading, I was intrigued by Chapter 31 (Queen Mab). I'm unclear right now as to what exactly the significance of Stubb's dream was; I realize that it gave him a certain respect for Ahab as the captain but as for general importance (especially to Ishmael) I'm still confused.

    Queen Mab herself is a reference to a fairy in Romeo and Juliet (and various 17th century literature as I found out after researching) who drove people to dreams of wish-fulfillment. This left me a little bit more confused as I'm not positive what wish of Stubb's was fulfilled with this dream (if Melville was in fact using her in this specific reference rather than simply as a promoter of dreaming).

    The images of the pyramid and the merman were also something of interest to me. While the merman could easily have just been a chosen fantastical creature of the sea the fact that it was a merMAN rather than woman was interesting, and could just be another example of just how nonexistent females were on these voyages. Ahab's transformation into a pyramid is something to whose symbolism I can't even merit a guess.

    Generally I'd like to discuss not only the meaning of the dream in terms of its importance to the story but also the imagery and symbolism behind the various events and figures.

  8. I was especially impressed by the analogies and metaphors in Chapter 58. Interestingly enough, Melville speaks about the irresistible allure of the sea; he boasts that the sea is superior to land, yet he doesn't understand why men are so ignorant in regards to its beauty. Melville uses an analogy to represent man's ignorance: "For as this appalling ocean surrounds this verdant land, so in the soul of man there lies one insular Tahiti, full of peace and joy, but encompassed by all horrors of the half known life" (299). Ignorance hinders humanity.

  9. Melville continuously relates the ship to ideas of nobility and class. In last weeks reading, he delved into the necessity of the whaling industry to kings and nobles; they could not function, the narrator says, without the intense efforts of the whalers who supply them with the imperative oil. Though they are of a lower class, they he dives into the respect they deserve and should earn by risking their lives for the livelihood of those with power. In this week's reading, he compares Captain Ahab to a dictator, and his officers to Emirs. Then, in ch. 37, he introduces Ahab's Iron Crown of Lombardy. This passage was of particular significance because Ahab does not wear the regal gold, but instead a jagged heavy metal, one that seems to indicate the workmanship of a whaler. His is the dictator of labor, rather than a king of indulgences and finery. I am curious as to why the narration here seems to switch to Ahab's point of view.
    I also thought the cetology chapter was particularly interesting. It refleccts the Darwinian mindset — the scientific categorization and nomenclature of the animal world. He easily excludes many of the species he has heard them simply because he deems them insignificant, which I suppose is fair for someone who has researched (or as the narrator claims, has whaled extensively) whales to sort the whales that appear most commonly in tales and in adventures and deem the others unimportant. But the Darwinian connection is clear here. Yet, why does Melville include this section, which is merely plotless background? Perhaps it is to give insight to a reader who is unfamiliar to the practices of whaling, or what a whale looks and behaves as. Or perhaps this is Melville's vain attempt to show off his labors in writing the novel and his higher (assumed self-taught) education in the field. I'm not sure, but it is an interesting section nonetheless if only for its divergence from the narrative of the surrounding sections and categorical discourse.

  10. I remember in class we touched upon how Melville talked about death. As I read I noticed that how he often used a somber tone and really bring the attitude to be almost scary with his advanced imagery and metaphors. The best example I have is when Ishmael described the Inn when he was New Bedford. He said how the owners name was Coffin and this symbolizes how the whaling business was a death sentence. As the narrative continues the foreshadowing continues when it comes to the topic of death over and over again. I am wondering is Melville foreshadowing the death of Ishmael? Or he just calling attention to like we discussed last week that the whaling industry is in some sense another, slower form of suicide.

  11. Two chapters that really stuck out to me in this week's reading were "Sunset" and Dusk" (37-38). Just judging by their titles, one can see they're meant to be related, or better yet, oppose each other. I think the reason these chapters stuck out is because the narrative was switched from Ishmael's usual first-person perspective to a more Shakespearean-esque monologue by other characters.

    The first, in "Sunset", is given by Captain Ahab, who only revealed his plot to garner revenge against Moby Dick one chapter ago. He goes on to expand on his reputation as being psychologically and even questions his sanity himself. "They think me
    mad--Starbuck does; but I'm demoniac, I am madness maddened!" This quote not only shows Ahab's growing darkness but reveals the tension that is building between the captain and his first mate.

    The next chapter, "Dusk", indeed mirrors Sunset, as it has Starbuck giving his own monologue. In it, Starbuck explains that even though the reasons may be skewed, Ahab has somehow bounded him and the crew into doing his bidding and that "all the reasons he had against it simply disappeared". However, he has a feeling that the voyage is on the verge of imminent doom.

    This relationship between characters can definitely be emphasized in class. Also, a good question to bring up is why Melville even chose to leave his regular perspective for an erratic one that jumps between narrative and theatrical?

  12. I thought the first chapter where Ahab appeared to be really interesting. At first the way he's talking gets the men all excited. Ishmael's description of some of the crew eyeing each other and Starbuck looking apprehensive lends to the idea that this isn't just Ahab trying to get his crew to rally in order to make a lot of money.
    When it finally came to light that Moby Dick caused Ahab to lose his leg, Starbuck says, "I came here to hunt whales, not my commander's vengeance" (177). Starbuck, who so far has be portrayed as rational, believes the Ahab has ulterior motives for this voyage. All of this mixed together paints a picture of a slightly unhinged Ahab who so far is willing to risk a golden doubloon for Moby Dick. If Starbuck's apprehension is any clue, Ahab will most likely be willing to risk a lot more to get his revenge.