Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Thinking Abstractly Through Pip

After reading chapter 93 regarding Pip, I began to wonder what the reason for this character was in the novel. What is the importance of the event that occurred to Pip as well as his overall existence? As I delved into the matter, I found a possible reason of why Melville included and used such a character: Pip is used to get the reader thinking abstractly through him being a contrast to Ahab as well as an embodiment or example for certain symbols.

Pip is the opposite of Ahab in many aspects. Pip is very lively and friendly with everyone and he is constantly in a good mood. Pip seems to be in high spirits and dancing around with his tambourine up until his incident with falling into the ocean. “jolly brightness peculiar to his tribe; a tribe, which ever enjoy all holidays and festivities with finer, freer relish than any other race. For blacks, the year's calendar should show naught but three hundred and sixty-five Fourth of Julys and New Year's Days” (Chap 93). Ahab, on the other hand, is very isolated and is constantly in a negative and brooding mood. He is always angry, revengeful, and snappy at the crew members.

Pip has also refused to become a victim of Ahab’s persuasion. He is not a follower for the hunting of Moby Dick; he is afraid of the white whale and the possible outcome of hunting it. As Pip states in Chapter 40, “Here have I heard all their chat just now, and the white whale – but spoken of once! And only this evening – it makes me jingle all over like my tambourine – that anaconda of an old man swore ‘em in to hunt him! Oh, thou big white God aloft there somewhere in yon darkness, have mercy on this small black boy down here”. In the end, this could show the power that Ahab had on the futures of everyone, even those who did not follow him since the whole crew, excluding Ishmael, ultimately perishes.

Ahab has also been described as immovable. Pip is obviously the opposite with this after going from happy and lively to crazy following his episode. Ahab is an individualist and enjoys being solitary where Pip went crazy because of being alone. Ahab and Pip are both crazy but in different ways. Ahab is hungry for revenge and will do anything to succeed at it. Even though Pip does go crazy and might scare people, he does not push away the crew members like Ahab does. Pip is crazy in a way where he is not making much sense to other people as seen in chapter 99 where he talks grammar, “I look, you look, he looks; we look, ye look, they look”. But the curious thing is, later on in the chapter, he talks of and predicts the destruction of the Pequod, “when they come to fish up this old mast, and find a doubloon lodged in it”. How could one that is seen as insane and nonsensical be so deep in thought and correctly predict the future?

The incidence regarding Pip can also show the effect of isolation. Pip did not suffer due to the dangers of being in the ocean like sharks or drowning, instead he suffered because of the loneliness and isolation. “But the awful loneliness is intolerable. The intense concentration of self in the middle of such a heartless immensity, my God! Who can tell it?”(Chap 93). I discussed this in my last blog post where it is mentioned that Melville believed in the importance of relationships and the human community. He also believed that individualism would lead to one’s demise, which he portrays through both Ahab’s overall behavior and Pip’s state of mind.

The effect of the sea can also be seen through Pip’s experience. The sea could symbolize, as mentioned in class, chaos, death, and destruction. Pip did not physically die from the sea, but his soul did. This could have been because Pip became aware of the chaos and destruction in the world. Pip then became more inward and thoughtful as it is mentioned that he saw the “unwarped primal world” and was probably able to compare it to modern times and life on the ship. It is almost like a child who grew up and realized what the world is really like. Ishmael mentions that Pip becomes wise especially when it comes to God and religion, even though the crew calls him crazy, “So man's insanity is heaven's sense; and wandering from all mortal reason, man comes at last to that celestial thought, which, to reason, is absurd and frantic” (Chap 93). So, in one sense or point of view, he is crazy where in another, he is thoughtful and sensible.


  1. I’m sorry that I didn’t use page numbers. I had used my Kindle knowing that I could have searched all the instances that Pip appeared throughout the novel. However, I realized that there are no page numbers. So, I tried to reference the passages through the chapters instead.

  2. I like the content here. I definitely agree that Pip and Ahab are polar opposites. But I'm not sure if the answer to your overall question (what is the purpose of Pip in the novel?) was answered. You talk about Pip's character and experience, but I'm not sure if I understand the overall purpose of having him after reading this.
    Also, for some reason the line ". Pip did not physically die from the sea, but his soul did" really caught my eye and I really like it.

  3. I really could leave Erin's comment as my main comment, but let me extend it a little, at least.

    Each paragraph was fine; some were more than fine. You're coming at Pip's character from many different angles, and all of them are productive. As an aside, I'll point out that the final reading adds a lot to Pip's character, and let me also point out that not dealing more explicit with the racial aspect of Pip and Ahab's relationship & identification is a mistake. But that's not my main point.

    My main point is that each individual point is worthwhile, and some are downright excellent. What you need is an *overall* structure which, I think, is why Erin finds (correctly) that you didn't answer your initial question. A true answer would require more focus and precision, despite the virtues of your *array* of answers.