Friday, March 18, 2011

Divine Pip

Out of all of the characters portrayed in Herman Melville’s Moby Dick it seems most logical to conclude that Pip is the central source of divinity. Many have argued that Ahab and/or Moby Dick are the primary sources of divinity in the novel; I, on the other hand, disagree with this notion. I believe that Ahab simply represents a mortal man who is in search of divinity and is on a complementary mission to cast away evil, or Satan. Accordingly, Moby Dick represents evil/Satan in the novel; Ahab committed his life to the disempowerment of Moby Dick: “Towards thee I roll, thou all-destroying but unconquering whale; to the last I grapple with thee; from hell’s heart I stab at thee; for hate’s sake I spit my last breath at thee” (Melville, 623). I believe that Pip, though an unlikely source, is the divinity that Ahab so eagerly wishes to embrace on his journey: “Ye did beget this luckless child, and have abandoned him, ye creative liberties…Thou touches my inmost centre, boy; thou art tied to me by cords woven of my heart-strings” (Melville, 567).

Although pip is a character that seems to capacitate less than normal intelligence, he is a source of holiness on the Pequod. Moreover, Melville makes readers aware that Ahab—the ship’s captain who is of superior status—has accepted Pip as God’s own divinity: “Peace, thou crazy loon, cried the Manxman, seizing him [Pip] by the arm…The greater idiot ever scolds the lesser, muttered Ahab, advancing. Hands off from that holiness!” (Melville, 567). Pip’s role, as he is an unusual source of divinity, parallels the coffin’s unusual function as a life-preserver. The “Life-buoy of a coffin” is used to facilitate/enhance readers’ understanding of Pip’s divinity, as Ahab realizes that goodness can emanate from ironic sources: “A life-buoy of a coffin!...Can it be that in some spiritual sense the coffin is, after all, but an immortality-preserver!...So far gone am I in the dark side of the earth, that its other side, the theoretic bright one, seems but uncertain twilight to me…Now, then, Pip, we’ll talk this over; I do suck most wondrous philosophies from thee! Some unknown conduits from the unknown worlds must empty into thee!” (Melville, 574-575).

Furthermore, Pip’s speech to Queequeg, as Queequeg is lying in his coffin, can be understood in terms of Pip’s divinity. Although Queequeg had been direly ill he was able to eject himself from death’s bed after Pip’s speech; consequentially, I believe that Pip’s emanating divinity enabled the restoration of Queequeg’s health. Pip’s speech also functioned to inform Queequeg that he could not transgress to heaven because his work on earth had not been completed. As the speech appears to reveal, Pip (analogizing of Queequeg) resides in heaven but he has left something on earth—his tambourine (analogizing of Queequeg’s unfinished earthly duties):

Poor rover! Will ye never have done with all this weary roving? Where go ye now? But if the currents carry ye to those sweet Antilles where the beaches are only beat with water-lilies, will ye do one little errand for me? Seek out one Pip, who’s now been missing long…If ye find him, then comfort him; for he must be very sad; for look! He’s left his tambourine behind (Melville, 523).

Queequeg subsequently rises out of his coffin; however, because Pip is such an unlikely source of divinity, Queequeg ignorantly attributes the restoration of his health to his own will power: “In a word, it was Queequeg’s conceit, that if a man made up his mind to live, mere sickness could not kill him…” (Melville, 523). Contrarily, I believe that it is no coincidence that Queequeg’s health returned immediately after Pip’s speech. Divine Pip cured Queequeg and alerted him of his unfinished earthy duties, “So to my fond faith, poor Pip, in this strange sweetness of his lunacy, brings heavenly vouchers of all our heavenly homes” (Melville, 523). In conclusion, I believe that Pip, though an unlikely source, is the divinity that Ahab so eagerly wishes to embrace while on his voyage to defeat evil.


  1. I think your argument for the divinity of Pip is nicely worked out. Some of it is rooted in your previous work; some of it is rooted (but only partially) in things we've talked about in class, for instance, the "poor rover" speech. So far, so good - everything you have to say makes perfect sense to me. Possibly some of it's a little obvious - it shouldn't be a complete shock that a person who Ahab perceives as divine is, in fact, divine - but the details are well worked out.

    Let me pose what, to me, is the big question: how does it change things, that Pip is divine? How do we read the rest of the novel differently? What consequences does it have? I'm not saying it was necessary to go there in this draft, but if you revise, that's something to think through in detail.

    And the other big question: ideally, you'd work through the counter-evidence & the difficulties. First and foremost - what do you do with the details of the divine imagery surrounding Moby-Dick? What does it mean to demote him, or shift him, from God to devil? Maybe this is where the significance of your reading comes in.

    In short - I liked this as far as it went, but a revision would require some thought about consequences, and more detailed thought about MD himself.

  2. This was definitely an interesting argument. I think I'd like to see more expansion into the relationship of Ahab and Pip because it is definitely significant that Ahab regards him above his chief mates. The example with Queequeg is also awesome, but I think even more analysis of those quotes would strengthen your argument! And you mention that Moby Dick is Satan, but you don't draw this into your argument as relevant. I do think it is though, but tell me how! Good luck on your revision!