Friday, March 18, 2011

Who Knew Pip Was So Enlightening?

Ishmael, Pip, and much of the crew gather around Queequeg in chapter 110. Pip’s speech to Queequeg when Queequeg is dying is somewhat erratic, but nonetheless passionate. There are many ways to understand Pip’s senseless speech, one of which is to explain Ishmael’s continued wandering. Another way to understand the speech is to use it to explain Ahab and Pip’s bond.

In this chapter, Ishmael refers to himself numerous times as one, which has not been a frequent occurrence previously. The first time he calls himself one is when Queequeg takes his hand and he tells him what kind of coffin he wants. The second time right before Pip’s speech, Ishmael refers to himself as one when Queequeg asks him to get Yojo for him. It seems like Ishmael is trying to distance himself from Queequeg during the only other true interaction we have seen between them since the beginning of the book. In the following part Pip gives his speech containing the part about Queequeg dying as a general, “Let's make a General of him” (523). This shows two of Pip’s feelings toward Queequeg dying. He is sad about Queequeg’s possible death, and he also recognizes that Queequeg was a good and honorable man. The conjunctional use of the word one for Ishmael and Pip’s dismay lead to the conclusion the Pip is expressing Ishmael’s sentiments. One explanation of the change might be that it would be too strong for Ishmael to be proclaiming his sorrow like Pip. Another explanation is that, considering the story is supposed to be written after the Pequod sinks, it may be Ishmael preparing in retrospect to lose his dear Queequeg. If the reader understands Pip’s assertion that Queequeg be buried like a General as Ishmael’s sorrow over losing Queequeg then the significance of the passage changes. This becomes evidence for the reason Ishmael is still wandering after the Pequod sinks. Ishmael’s deep respect for and attachment to Queequeg gives Ishmael the wherewithal to use his wanderings to pass along a message of warning of the risk of imperialism. In chapter 54, Ishmael tells the Dons the story about Town-Ho. He is trying to point out to them the flaws in the hierarchies of society. If the crew could rally behind Steelkilt what is to keep the Dons’ subjects from rallying. Ishmael is trying to enlighten the Dons because of Queequeg. Queequeg’s “Czar Peter” like intentions along with Ishmael’s devotion inspire Ishmael’s preaching and fuel his drive to help the world understand the importance and significance of savage cultures. This reading of part of Pip’s speech ultimately signifies Ishmael’s commitment to Queequeg and for what he stood.

The part in the speech about Pip’s soul being lost is also significant of the reason Ahab eventually takes Pip under his wing. Pip insists in his ramblings that the real essence of himself is lost “in those far Antilles” (522). In a way, Pip says here that his soul left him when he jumped out of the boat. This relates to Ahab if his conversation with Starbuck in the chapter The Quarter Deck is taken into consideration. Here he talks about why he hunts Moby Dick; Ahab sees him as the mask in front of whatever controls the universe. He believes that “If man will strike, strike through the mask!” (178). Ahab attributes his fanaticism to trying to strike through Moby Dick in order to get to the cosmic controller and to prove that he is the most powerful. In the light of both of the scenes Ahab’s care for Pip is understandable. Pip no longer has the controlling force behind him; he is no longer governed by the unknown that Ahab wishes to reach. This allows Ahab to quell his desire to punch through the mask he believes covers “All visible objects” (178) and understand Pip for, what Ahab believes to be, wholly Pip without the controlling force. This view of the significance of Pip’s speech lends to the idea that when Ahab leaves Pip on the boat he is trying to preserve the first thing he has found that he can relate to without him just being another animated mask. The speech sheds light on Ahab and Pip’s relationship while, at the same time, reinforcing Ahab’s reason for “striking through” Moby Dick.

Not only does Pip’s speech provide evidence for Ishmael’s quest to provide truth to the powerful of the world and explain the importance of Pip and Ahab’s relationship, but it also supplies the reader with the reasoning behind the actions. Without the speech it would be a lot more difficult to ascertain where Ishmael wanders off to next or why Ahab was able to bond with the lowest member of the crew.


  1. In your first long, somewhat disorganized paragraph you give a detailed and nuanced account which *mostly* focuses on things we said in class. This is fine up to a point - it's good to contextualize what you're going to say, it's good to know what's been going on in class, and it's good to have a detailed knowledge of the text. This material is at least relatively disordered and undirected, though - it would have worked better with a statement of your argument at the front end, to help us understand it, maybe combined with editing it down some.

    I thought your discussion of Pip's "absence" was really pretty exceptional. You tie together several seemingly disparate conversations and moments in the text, showing a good understanding of several character and, critically, an ability to connect Ahab's thoughts at multiple parts of the novel. Your first paragraph was ok; this second paragraph, though, as a seeming entry into an extended argument on the relationship between Pip and Ahab, is exceptional. I would certainly enjoy a revision, or even a final project, which does this for several pages instead of for part of one page (which isn't to say that all of the material in the 1st paragraph would need thrown out - I just see it as being subordinate to what you're doing in the second paragraph).

  2. This comment has been removed by the author.

  3. I enjoyed reading your explanations to your reasons very much; there is a lot of really good information in there that I found really interesting. Some of it I had never thought about before so it was fresh outlook on the topic. You also support your topic and stance on the subject very well and that helps you get your message across much better.

    However, I did find myself having to reread some parts as I found them a bit confusing. I would definitely suggest going back and polishing up on some parts so that they flow better. Overall however, I think this is a well written, strong essay.