Saturday, March 19, 2011

pulpits and captains

Melville is in many ways obsessed with symbolism. Moby-Dick has the potential to be analyzed in numerous ways as a result of the prevalence of symbolic language in the text. An example is the pulpit. In the Whaleman's Chapel for instance, the pulpit represents the harpooner's approach to his ministry. Everything in the church is similar to life at sea. Father Mapple is the captain of the symbolic ship, and the congregation is his crew. The pulpit itself is shaped like the prow of a ship and features a painting of a vessel battling a storm near a rocky coast, an angel of hope watching over it. An obvious reading is that the pulpit represents the leadership of the pastor and that God is the pilot of the ship. Mapple's shipmates are the congregation; they fight storms on rocky coasts, in ships, and figuratively in the rest of their lives. They need the hope and consolation of God's grace, as represented by the angel.

“Like most old fashioned pulpits, it was a very lofty one, and since a regular stairs to such a height would, by its long angle with the floor, seriously contract the already small area of the chapel, the architect, it seemed, had acted upon the hint of Father Mapple, and finished the pulpit without a stairs, substituting a perpendicular side ladder, like those used in mounting a ship from a boat at sea. The wife of a whaling captain had provided the chapel with a handsome pair of red worsted man-ropes for this ladder, which, being itself nicely headed, and stained with a mahogany colour, the whole contrivance, considering what manner of chapel it was, seemed by no means in bad taste. Halting for an instant at the foot of the ladder, and with both hands grasping the ornamental knobs of the man-ropes, Father Mapple cast a look upwards, and then with a truly sailor-like but still reverential dexterity, hand over hand, mounted the steps as if ascending the main-top of his vessel.(Melville 8)

Mapple has to get to the pulpit by climbing a rope ladder like ones used to mount a ship from a boat at sea. He then pulls the rope up after him, thus separating himself with the earth. In similar ways, the captain of a whaling ship assumes the pilot's role as he cuts off contact with land; the ship becomes a floating microcosm at sea. Melville makes effective use of juxtaposition throughout the novel; here, it is between Mapple and Ahab. Mapple is an old man of God who sees his role as leading his ship through rocky waters by submitting to the will of a higher authority. Ahab is an ungodly man who gladly uses and abuses authority but would rather not submit to it. In this sense, the pulpit represents the proper position for a ship's captain, performing his duty in leading his congregation toward an understanding of performing God's will.

1 comment:

  1. To me, this blog entry just seems extremely rushed. I mean there's hardly any substance, and half of this is an extremely large quote. I think you could spend some more time examining this aspect of Melville's symbolism for "The Pulpit" chapter.

    One thing I really liked was this line: "In similar ways, the captain of a whaling ship assumes the pilot's role as he cuts off contact with land; the ship becomes a floating microcosm at sea." This is such a great and interesting way to think about it. I would say maybe focus on expanding that idea, because it is unique and makes you think.