Sunday, March 13, 2011

Open thread for Moby-Dick, Fourth Day

Note:  if you were negligent, and didn't do your blog entry for the last reading, email it to me ASAP.


  1. I found this last part of the novel to be the most interesting and wrote down a million things I wanted to talk about but I'm going to bring up two characters who, although not present throughout the entire story, I found to be very interesting.

    If we have time like to discuss the relationship between Ahab and the captain of the Samuel Enderby because they are so similar but at the same time so completely different. The obvious connection is their loss of limb to Moby Dick but I think there's more to it than just the whale. I found it interesting that both men crafted their new arm and leg (respectively) out of the very thing that took it away from them. Is this some form of vengeance to show that though they've been conquered by whale they can also conquer it themselves? I also found their difference in demeanor intriguing. Ahab has become embittered and literally crazed after his encounter with Moby Dick while the captain of the Enderby is not only jolly but is completely content with having sworn to himself to never try to take revenge on his attacker. The encounter was brief but I feel like there just has to be more to their relationship than I read on a superficial level.

    The chapters featuring the carpenter also sparked my interest. I was mostly concerned with reading how Ishmael viewed the carpenter in his narration; as a man who was so completely consumed and in tune with his profession that he simply IS the profession (the tools and materials)...but couldn't whalers be considered the same? They devote their entire existence to their duties aboard the ship. I found it odd for Ishmael to marvel at the dedication of a carpenter when he was surrounded by men who were equally if not more consumed by their occupation.

  2. I wrote one of my earlier entries about science in Moby Dick, so I really appreciated the two chapters at the beginning of this section which contained a scientific history of whales: The Fossil Whale and Will He Perish. I thought it was interesting that Melville included some of the ideas of evolution into The Fossil Whale, even at this time in history. The idea of animals becoming gradually bigger over time, and how he uses this argument to prove that ancient descriptions of whales are exaggerated, especially shows how strong Melville’s grasp on the concepts of evolution are. There are some parts of his argument, including many parts of Will He Parish, which have not held up over time, but I still appreciate that he is using the theory of evolution at such an early time.
    I think it’s also interesting that these scientific arguments are included in the novel at all. I wish that we were given a more specific description of Ishmael’s background, because I feel like most whalers would not have enough education to understand these kinds of ideas. I know that we discussed in class that Melville came from a similar background to Ishmael, in that he came from a well off family and was well educated, but still became involved in whaling. I personally feel, however, that the story would be more convincing and Ishmael’s arguments would be more reliable if I knew what Ishmael’s background was.

  3. I really enjoyed the climax of Moby-Dick, but I did feel like it worked out a little too perfectly. In other words, I felt that Fedallah’s prediction coming true was very well done in a work of fiction, but in a book all about undertones and symbolism, I felt that having everybody’s fate coming true was a bit too far-fetched. Another problem I had was that the ending felt a little too rushed—Ishmael, who throughout the book commented on every small detail about the Pequod and its crew, did not leave many last words of his only companions on the year-long voyage. I would have liked to see a passage in the epilogue of him mourning Queequeg or visiting the families of Starbuck or Ahab.

    Reading the last portion of the story also made me feel compassion for Ahab for the first time. Ironically, it seemed the closer he got to finding Moby-Dick, the more human he acted to his crew. His quarrel with Starbuck deteriorated during a conversation about their families and he took care of Pip after his incident.

    The last thing that I think should have been elaborated on is the status of the doubloon. It was the main incentive of the crew to hunt Moby-Dick and, after Ahab claimed it as his own, I’m surprised the crew didn’t usurp the captain after being defeated by the whale the first or second night. It’s also implied that the doubloon sunk with the ship, but I would’ve liked to see Ishmael claim it before it sunk—that would’ve been an interesting ending. On the other hand, maybe it’s better if it sunk, as it represented everybody’s inner wants sinking as they themselves did.

  4. At the end of this leviathan novel, I'm left wondering something very basic. What are we supposed to take from this novel? I mean, clearly there are several different ways of interpreting and finding themes, but is Melville trying to send one overarching message? I can't exactly pinpoint what I would say that message is. Obviously there's the idea that chasing dreams isn't always fruitful, and that dedication to our ideals isn't always a promise that good things will happen. If that's what we're supposed to take from the novel, I'm a little bit confused about how it relates to the rest of the literature we've read in this class. Marcuse and Butler were both heavily interested in improving society to a (while different, still similar) set of ideals. Whitman believes to some extent that life is good inherently as it is, and Eliot believes the opposite. However, the common thread for all these works is that the authors look for something and they find it. Marcuse and Butler look for criticisms and ways to improve society, and we find those woven into their works. Whitman and Eliot search for support for a set of assumptions, that life is either good or bad, and they find that support. But Melville appears to be looking essentially, on a basic level, for some sense of a meaning to life. He very clearly does not find it in writing his novel.

    I don't know, maybe I'm missing something, but I just wonder what Melville felt like upon completing his novel.

  5. I think "The Life-Buoy" and "The Deck" (chapters 126 & 127) are two golden examples of "Melvillesque" irony that I discussed in last week's blog entry. The "life-buoy of a coffin" was a humorous concept, in my opinion;

    I also liked how Ahab philosophically analyzes his dark-nature, as he wonders why he only sees the darkness in the "life-buoy of a coffin" instead realizing that it would be used to save lives: "Can it be that in some spiritual sense the coffin is, after all, but an immortality-preserver! I'll think of that. But no. 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" (575).

  6. In one of our previous classes, we talked about how Ahab was symbolic of a pyramid: he has great strength and it will take a lot for him to crumble. I think this is easily seen in how stubborn Ahab was when it came to encounters with other ships at sea. His focus is solely on finding Moby Dick. In this week’s reading particularly, Chapter 115: The Pequod meets the Bachelor, just as with other ships, Ahab’s first though is “Hast seen the White Whale?” (537) Then in chapter 128: The Pequod meets the Rachel, Ahab couldn’t care less that the Rachel’s Captain has lost his son and other crewmembers in the water. The only thing registering in Ahab’s mind is that Moby Dick is somewhere around. Maybe I am biased from high school literature classes or something, but I feel like Ahab, being a very important character in Moby Dick, should have developed as a character in some way. He has not improved his horrible social skills, he is still rude and demanding of is crew, and he is still severely disliked by the reader. In fact, I think his quality of character diminishes as the book goes on.

    Another problem I have with Ahab is that Melville pounds and pounds his brutality and disagreeableness over and over again. 600 pages in, I get it by now. I really wish Melville had put more focus on the other shipmates and told a little more of their stories instead of the constant reiteration of Ahab being a not-so-nice guy. I was pretty stoked when he finally died. Good riddance!

  7. I've decided my revision is going to read Moby-Dick with Marcuse and perhaps Hobbes.

    I would like to discuss then, as mentioned in my blog, how is that The Hat relates to Marcuse's machine? I can see that the ship becomes very rigid and controlled - Ahab demand to be on deck before anyone else and even demands to be hoisted to the Masthead to win the doubloon.

    Ahab's rant: In the chapter The Symphony, Ahab seems to break down. He reveals a lot about his life and the hunt that has taken his life away. There is a quote which caught me. " though I were Adam, staggering beneath the piled centuries since Paradise" (477). Now, if Ahab represents so many things (humanity, management, control), then is Melville pointing out the "sins" of such things?

    Also, it's been bothering me for a while, but, why does Moby Dick have a furrowed brow? And correct if I'm wrong, but I think in the last chapter, it says his "blank" brow. Significance?

  8. I really liked how Melville showed Ahab's humanity in the chapter The Symphony. It completely took me by surprise when Ahab opened up to Starbuck, who he has been in conflict with several times, and talks about his past, his family, and shows compassion.

    But at the same time, is there some other significance to showing this side of Ahab after almost a whole novel's worth constantly describing him as negative, narrow-minded, and individualistic? Or was it just to emphasize his craziness with the fact that he still chooses to go after Moby Dick even following this flood of humanity and Starbuck's pleas to head back to Nantucket?

  9. In chapter 100, I noticed there was a lot of narcissism related to Ahab and I enjoyed it just for the simple fact that I wrote an essay on it a couple weeks ago. Also, Chapter 14 went along with my paper on Jesus and the whale so it was interesting for me to read.

    I was also curious as to why there are random words capitalized in chapter 14 that shouldn't be. I'm going to guess that it has some biblical meaning but I just don get it. In chapter 105 I feel like they are talking about the end of the world and it just reminded me of 2012. The day I read that part of the book was when the earthquake and tsunami hit Japan so it was on my mind, so I could have read that wrong. In chapter 106 I would like to know the meaning behind the carpenter. He seems to be the guy who does everything, but I feel like there is a deeper meaning to him.

    I wanted to mention that while reading chapter 110, Queequeg came off as being God-like, because they were making his coffin at the command of him and putting food, water and treasured memorabilia into his coffin. This just reminded me of ancient civilizations and how they treated their rulers and Gods. Maybe a this is a relation to Egypt since there are a lot of other references to Ancient Egypt. Also, what is the point to chapter 122? It is so short and from the surface seems to not really mean much.

  10. Upon finishing Moby Dick, I realized I actually enjoyed the book more than before. I have read Moby Dick before for class in the past but never really bothered to go real in depth in analysis. I noticed that there is a much deeper meaning within Melville's novel that shined a completely different light on the book.

    For example, much of the symbolism relating God and the whale, I completely missed the first time. As well as much of the character development and relationships that develop throughout the story.

    One thing I didn't like as much was that I felt the final fight between Moby Dick was a bit 'short-lived.' This may have been purposely done as to show Moby Dick's true magnificence, but I felt so much of the book leads up to the final fight, which ends (in my opinion), fairly quickly. But after thinking about it, I thought maybe Melville intended it for the reader to not focus too much on the ending, as it is not the important part.

  11. by the end of the book and after considering the extracts, the subject of epistemology seems to prevail in the novel. I think Melville might have made the novel so open to interpretation in order to make an even larger point about the limits of human knowledge.

    Moby Dick as a god figure is something I always regarded as truth about the novel. However, after actually reading the extracts I think there is a legitimate case to be made for an even more extensive reading of the book.

    There are several points where this case is made. one area i noticed was in the encounter with "the bachelor," where the existence of moby-dick is challenged by other ships' crewmembers. In searching for moby dick it seems those aboard the pequod are asking questions that man simply cant fathom.

  12. After reading Moby-Dick I feel that one of Melville's main goals in writing this story was to inform the reader. I almost see each chapter as something that if taken out of the story and standing alone can be read with easy. I mean that in each chapter a message of thought is conveyed by Melville, but it is not always as clear as black and white. The book provides teachings of what I feel Melville was trying to get out to the people. For it's time Moby-Dick could be compared to maybe Benjamin Franklins Poor Richards Almanac that brought enlightenment of information to the colonist during early American days.

  13. I think it’s interesting that it was Queequeg's coffin that ended up saving Ishmael. This brings to mind our discussion about Melville's feelings toward society. We talked about how Melville may have viewed Christian and American society as having a lot to learn from the cannibals they were trying to civilize in the pacific. The sinking of the ship could represent the demise of civilized society and the fact that a savage's coffin is Ishmael's saving grace as the Pequod sinks reinforces the idea that Melville did truly value the savages' way of life.
    I have to wonder then, what is the ultimate message of the book? The last line about the seas rolling as they had forever gives the feeling that the story, and consequently the lives of the sailors told in the story, is inconsequential. I’m hoping I’m misunderstanding that part because it’s disappointing to get invested in this story, all the characters and the intricacies of whaling, to ultimately have them just die.

  14. I agree with both Kat and Erin. I just posted a blog about the relationship between Ahab and the captain of the other ship, who had lost his limb to Moby dick as well. I fins Ahab to be the most important character, and I almost feel that Melville would agree. He spent so much time detailing Ahab and his struggles that I feel that his character has to have more significance than appears to be on the surface. A detailed analysis of his character I think would prove to be very interesting, along with the obvious symbols, themes, and motifs that go along with him, he is by himself a very interesting reflection of Melville. I wonder if anyone else asked the question of what Ahab's overall significance to the plot is. Is there more to him than the search for revenge?