- Your revised essay should be at least five pages long, with at least 2-3 pages of new material.
- You must cite at least one more scholarly source in your revision than you did on the draft. Failing to do so (without prior discussion) will result in receiving a substantially lower grade than you would otherwise receive - at least one letter grade.
- You should work at least twice as hard on a revision as on a draft. This should be your best work.
- IMPORTANT: YOU MUST INCLUDE A LINK TO THE DRAFT YOU ARE REVISING AT THE TOP OF YOUR ESSAY, which should be posted as you would post an ordinary blog entry. Doing a real link is simple, but just cutting and pasting the link into the paper is fine, if you can't figure out how to do a real link.
Thursday, March 31, 2011
Monday, March 28, 2011
1) Contrary to what I said in class, you don't need to bring your bibles tomorrow. If I really want to bring a short passage in for discussion, I'll copy it.
2) I'm still looking for people who wanted to be workshopped. If you have a draft you'd like to see us discuss, either send me a copy (if you've been revising) or a link to the original.
Monday, March 21, 2011
As I was reading Herman Melville’s novel “Moby Dick or, The Whale” I couldn’t help but notice how many times he mentions the word sperm. I counted the word sperm two-hundred and seventy-one times, but I could have missed a few; regardless, that’s a lot of sperm.
I understand that “Moby Dick” is a novel about a Sperm Whale, and that part of helping the reader to understand the novel is accurately describing Moby Dick; but it seems to me that Melville’s use of the word sperm is a little excessive. I think that the word sperm is used in “Moby Dick” many times as a pun.
According to Wikipeida, the Sperm Whale’s name is an apocopation of Spermaceti Whale; spermaceti being the waxy, liquid substance that is found inside of the Sperm Whale, which was once believed to be the Sperm Whale’s sperm. This is obviously hilarious, and I think that the Melville realized the Sperm Whale’s humorous potential when he wrote “Moby Dick.”
There is one passage in particular in “Moby Dick” where it’s painfully obvious that Melville isn’t just talking about spermaceti. In chapter 94, A Squeeze of the Hand, Ishmael is describing himself and the crew working the spermaceti out of the Sperm Whale.
Squeeze! Squeeze! Squeeze! All the morning long; I squeezed that sperm till I myself almost melted into it; I squeezed the sperm till a strange sort of insanity came over me; and I found myself unwittingly squeezing my co-laborers’ hands in it, mistaking their hands for the gentle globules. (Melville, Moby Dick or, The Whale)
As we discussed in class, this play on words is a reference to masturbation. I think that it’s pretty funny and I appreciate Melville’s sense of humor. If I were to write a novel about Sperm Whales I don’t think I could resist making a few jokes about sperm. I liked reading passages like this one not only because they actually made me chuckle to myself as I was reading them; but they also helped me to relate better with Melville. I, like Melville apparently, am a fan of dirty jokes; and I couldn’t help but think of Melville sitting at his desk writing this passage and chuckling to himself as he wrote it.
As we discussed in class, there could be a deeper meaning within this passage. You could look at this passage from a literal point-of-view and think that it’s a description of the crew partaking in group masturbation. Although you could make a strong argument for that kind of interpretation, I would rather believe that this passage is merely a pun on the word spermaceti.
Clearly it must have been lonely for the men aboard whaling ships back in the 1800’s; much like it must be lonely for soldiers and sailors today when they are on long deployments; however, to the best of my knowledge, I don’t believe that it is common for soldiers and sailors today to partake in communal masturbation, so I would assume that case would remain the same in the 1800’s. I would imagine; however, that some element of solitary masturbation would exist.
Regardless of how much and what kind of masturbation was taking place on board the Pequod, the fact still remains that there were many puns and dirty jokes throughout the novel. Different arguments could be made concerning how literally these references could be interpreted. In my opinion, I don’t believe that these passages were meant to be taken literally. I believe that they were just comedic relief. They certainly made me laugh.
- You have now done three drafts, which means that your next assignment is your second revision. Therefore, like last time, there will be no new assignment due this week; you should begin working on your revision instead.
- To this end, we should probably go through a student essay or two in class. If you would like us to talk about one of yours, send me a link! Otherwise, I'll chose one (or two).
- Remember to bring Moby-Dick to class along with Kermode and either a complete Bible or, at least, a copy of the text of Mark.
Saturday, March 19, 2011
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.
Friday, March 18, 2011
One of these “conditions” could be considered the sexual relationships between shipmates. We talked a lot in class about how Melville gives a lot of obvious, drilling shout-outs to sex between his characters, especially between Ishmael and Queequeg. Kirby seems to think these ideas sprung from Melville’s own romantic relationships. Specifically, a newspaper published Melville’s “Fragments from a Writing Desk” on May 4 and 18, 1839. These “Fragments” were fictional pieces focusing on romantic love. In the first piece, a letter to a fake friend, Melville “describes three attractive young women in overblown terms” (Kirby 22). While plain old “describing” the beauty of women might have been socially acceptable during Melville’s time period, explicitly telling the reader two characters (especially two MALE characters) were having sex was certainly not. Perhaps like Walt Whitman in “Song of Myself,” Melville had to be sneaky and put the sexual references in Moby Dick, and let the reader decide if they wanted to acknowledge the innuendos, or let them slide. Knowing about Melville’s past on writing romantically on women makes it easier for the reader to pick up on Ishmael’s relationship with Queequeg. One early example of this in Moby Dick can be seen when Ishmael, talking about Queequeg and himself just having sex, says “thus, then, in our hearts’ honeymoon, lay I and Queequeg—a cosy, loving pair” (Melville 58).
Continuing on with Queequeg, we know from Moby Dick that he was a cannibal, and that Ishmael was not even very fazed by this. Upon first glance, one might wonder how Melville came up with such a seemingly accurate portrayal of Moby Dick. Kirby’s book reveals that Melville himself spent time among cannibals when he jumped ship off his second ship, the Acushnet. For almost a month, Melville lived with the Typees, who were known to have cannibalistic ways. “Yet if, as her reports in Typee, Melville was concerned enough to keep a careful eye on the meal preparation of his hosts, apparently there was never any real danger that the Typees might make a tasty dinner” of Melville (Kirby 26). Understanding Melville’s alliance and maybe even acceptance of the cannibalistic Typees can help us understand why Ishmael is so accepting of Queequeg. Naturally Ishmael is at first worried, but then he learns to love Queequeg more than anything else in the world, regardless of his past.
Finally, there was one particular part of Kirby’s biography that screamed out “Ahab” to me. While Melville was staying with the Typees, he “suffered from a mysterious ailment of the leg” (Kirby 26). It does not take the reader much to connect this easily with Ahab, who lost his leg in an encounter with Moby Dick. While Melville might not have had to wear a replacement ivory leg, I find it pretty simple to connect Melville’s leg problems directly to Ahab’s. I think that maybe Melville needed to give Ahab some sort of setback to not only give purpose to finding Moby Dick, but to show Captain Ahab’s power. To do this, all Melville had to do was draw on his personal experiences, and voila: the disabled yet demanding and overconfident captain is complete. Even with one leg, Ahab is still that strong pyramid the crew fears. Through reading biographies such as David Kirby’s “Herman Melville,” a reader of Moby Dick can better understand the novel and where the characters and ideas come from.
Kirby, David. “Herman Melville.” Continuum, New York: 1993.
Melville, Herman. “Moby Dick.” Penguin Group, New York: 2003.
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.
Upon finishing Moby Dick, it is very easy to see that there are countless symbols that appear time and time again. Each one seems to have a much deeper meaning that allows us to further our understanding of the Novel and Melville’s message. One particular motif that seems to be very distinct throughout is the constant mention of the ‘whiteness’ of the whale throughout the novel. The idea of whiteness is so prominent that there is even a whole chapter devoted to “The Whiteness of the Whale” (chapter 42). In this chapter, Ishmael finally explains what exactly Moby Dick Means to him and specifically mentions how it was the sheer whiteness of the whale that appalled him. In addition, Ishmael interestingly discusses how although ‘whiteness’ is usually universally considered to represent “enhancing beauty” and is a symbol of virtue, nobility, and racial superiority but yet, Ishmael believes this is not that case. This idea is interesting because Ishmael shines a completely new light on an idea that is still widely accepted.
The actual color of ‘whiteness’ is created using all the colors of the spectrum when it passes through some sort of prism. This brings forward a very interesting point as Ishmael distinctively notes the great whiteness of Moby Dick. Perhaps using the idea of ‘whiteness’ as a representation of Moby, Ishmael is suggesting that Moby Dick, real or fake, is created through all of the stories and tales (colors) passed on by ‘witnesses’ (prisms). This suggests the idea that Moby Dick is only as powerful and great as one believes it to be. Like ‘whiteness’, which would not exist without all of the other colors, the magnificence of Moby Dick would not exist without word of mouth.
This idea of a true hazy idea of what Moby Dick really is can further be strengthened in in the chapters where Ishmael reflects in his narrative digressions that define and describe whales. Despite writing long and exhaustive explanations, Ishmael still fails to completely capture the nature of the whale. Even when a whale washes up in front of Ishmael, our whaling expert, he still fails to confidently identify the parts. As Ishmael continues to analyze his outlook on the ‘whiteness’ of Moby Dick, he further expresses his negative feelings towards whiteness because it represents the “unnatural albinos,” creatures who live in extreme environments, and who Ishmael looks down upon.
As stated above, Ishmael’s ideas of whiteness are very interesting because they reverse the traditional association of whiteness with good and purity. Whiteness represents both a lack of meaning and an excess of meaning that both confuse people. Moby dick is considered the ultimate example of whiteness and yet, none of the characters can truly understand the “Great White Whale.” Moby Dick seems to have varying symbolic meanings to each of the crewmembers; Ahab believes that Moby Dick represents evil whereas others view Moby Dick as simply a job or a bad omen. Perhaps this varying idea of Moby Dick relates back to the idea that Moby Dick represents God and that the true idea of God is something that is widely debated throughout history. Furthermore, the presence of ‘whiteness’ also comes into play, as traditionally God is synergic with the color white.
Although there are countless instances of symbolism found throughout Moby Dick, I distinctly remembered the comparisons of ‘whiteness.’ I found it interesting that so many of Ishmael’s beliefs contrast with numerous widely accepted ideas found in both the past and todays world. Everything, from his religious beliefs to his simple opinion of the color white, all seem to contrast with social norms. Perhaps, this is the reason why Ishmael felt so strongly that he had to leave society and find adventure at sea. Maybe it was because he felt so out of place in what was ‘normal society’ that he felt compelled to leave his old life to create a completely new adventure.
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.
The soul of Moby Dick becomes the center of the novel. When the ship embarks on the voyage, Captain Ahab knows that it will be for the hunt of the white whale. The spirit of the whale is present throughout the main interactions of the novel. Queequeg and Ishmael bond through his spirit; in his hunts, Stubb expresses the honor that only the whale can trump. Captain Ahab is ruled and tortured by the spirit. In all of these situations, the spirit is present in the form of a pipe. Melville inserts this image, sometimes subtly, within all of these interactions. The pipe, then, represents the soul of the white whale, and constantly pushes the characters that interact with pipes to the physical white whale.
There is a distinct connection made between the pipe and the whale in the chapter “The Fountain,” in which Melville discusses the windpipe of the whale, which functions both as a gas pipe and a water pipe. The whale’s windpipe is thus his most fundamental life source; he uses it to breathe, and to expel the water that he sucks in during his feeds. It is also the source of the majesty of the whale — the spray that surges from the windpipe has created a mystical image of the whale, “I have heard it said, and I do not much doubt it, that if the jet is fairly spouted into your eyes, it will blind you” (Ch. 85). The windpipe functions as a source for legends, and brings the life of the whale aboard whaling ships through the sailor’s stories. It forms both the literal life and the mythical life of the whale.
The first appearance of the pipe in the novel is at Queequeg and Ishmael’s first encounter each other at the Spouter Inn. Ishmael desperately pretends to sleep as Queequeg practices his bedtime prayer rituals. Ishmael is fearful of the “cannibal” with whom he will soon share a bed, but does not dare speak until Queequeg at last lights his tomahawk pipe and jumps into bed with him. Then Ishmael suddenly expresses his first reaction and cries out for the landlord. After the landlord comes in and calms Ishmael, he agrees to sleep with Queequeg, but begs that he puts out the pipe. Ironically, as their friendship grows after the first night, Ishmael enjoys smoking the tomahawk pipe in bed with Queequeg as they converse before sleep. The pipe becomes a fundamental part of their relationship; it at first is a source of resistance, but then enjoins the men and begins to form the bonds that will guide them through their whaling expedition.
This occurrence of the tomahawk pipe between Ishmael and Queequeg in bed relates to the life of the whale because it is during these conversations that the men decide they will embark on a whaling expedition together. It anticipates the adventure where they will soon hunt the white whale, Moby Dick. They are then connected throughout the novel. As we discussed in class, Ishmael carries on the life of Queequeg after his death, by transcribing the copies of his tattoos and returning to continue Queequeg’s “duty ashore.” The life of the Moby Dick brings about the death of Queequeg, but it also reenforces the connection between the two men. Their union begins with a pipe and ends with Moby Dick; the life of the whale is ever present in their embarkment.
The pipe also appears when Captain Ahab reflects on his battles with the sea and decides that he must discard the pipe. Ahab “tossed the still lighted pipe into the sea. The fire hissed in the waves; the same instant the ship shot by the bubble the sinking pipe made” (Ch. 30). In his soliloquy, Ahab reflects, “Here have I been unconsciously toiling, not pleasuring—aye, and ignorantly smoking to windward all the while; to windward, and with such nervous whiffs, as if, like the dying whale, my final jets were the strongest and fullest of trouble” (Ch. 30). The discarding is a representation of his wishes for the whale’s death, yet he returns the smoking pipe to the water, the home of the Moby Dick, where he still remains. When he tosses the pipe, Ahab also tosses his ability to reason. He carried with him the soul of the white whale in that pipe, but when he returns it to the ocean he begins his transition to obsessive insanity in the necessity to recover what he once had in his grasp. Eventually, Ahab sinks with the pipe to the ocean’s depths. He loses his life to the life of Moby Dick and the soul of the white whale remains in the sea.
Stubb, who is an avid pipe smoker, is often depicted smoking right before the capture of a whale. Such is the case in the chapter “Stubb Kills A Whale.” As the crew reels in the lines thrown by harpooneers, Stubb puffs and yells commands (Ch. 61). Yet, when the chase for Moby Dick comes to the hunt, Stubb carries no pipe. He does not partake in his hunting routine, but instead has only the fear of the life of the whale that is about to take his own. The pipe for him represents success in the feat. But Stubb is no match for Moby Dick; the life of the white whale diminishes the honor that is displayed by his pipe (and even replaces the pipe because). Stubb’s honor in whaling is sacrificed to the greater honor of Moby Dick’s life.
Discuss Ch. 61 “the whale looked like a portly burgher smoking his pipe of a warm afternoon. But that pipe, poor whale, was thy last.”
The final appearance of the pipe comes in Ch. 105, entitled “Does the Whale's Magnitude Diminish?—Will He Perish?” “The moot point is, whether Leviathan can long endure so wide a chase, and so remorseless a havoc; whether he must not at last be exterminated from the waters, and the last whale, like the last man, smoke his last pipe, and then himself evaporate in the final puff.” As the title of the chapter suggests, it is a deliberation of whether Captain Ahab will succeed, or whether Moby Dick’s strength will permit defeat of his pursuers. As it turns out, the white whale is victorious, and the Pequod destroyed along with Ahab. Moby dick does not smoke his last pipe, but continues to live. The pipe — as Moby Dick’s soul — continues to burn in the depths of the sea.
I chose a reoccurring event in the novel as opposed to a term, but the symbolism and deeper reading that can be done with them is just as complex. Throughout the text, the Pequod meets six different boats with six different crews and context within the story. Melville is quite obviously saying something about those aboard the ships by how the encounters are crafted. It would be of benefit to see what he is saying about each, and why he brings in these elements when he does.
From the get-go, Melville establishes an admiration for “savages” – most readily seen in his accounts of Queequeg. On the opposite side of the spectrum, the encounters are used to define the role of other civilized whaling vessels in the story.
The first encounter, with the Virgin, makes a statement early on that the German and Dutch whaling industry used to flourish and have more vessels than any other nation. Now, though, they are the fewest in number (318). Though this is a glimpse into the history of the whaling scene, it can be developed into a view of the changing powers of the world and hints at whom Melville favors. When the two boats have had their initial meeting, there is a chase for a great old whale. Following the laws of Loose-Fish, the race is intense. Melville does not leave the event as a matter of sport or competition; he creates a cowardly and dastardly image of the German captain whom throws the lamp oil Stubbs gave him overboard (321). Perhaps Melville wanted there to be some drama, but it cannot be that simple. Stubbs also has a repertoire of labels for the rival captain – German, Dutch dogger, and Yarman. Not only does he call him two different lineages, readily insulting I’m sure to any German or Dutch persons, but the use of Yarman is purely derogatory – like calling a Northerner a Yank or a working man Grabowski. It would seem just another instance of color among whalers if Melville did not make fun of the other two European whaling ships that happen the Pequod.
The Rose-Bud is next – Melville has fun with this one. I think it becomes obvious in this chapter that he holds some animosity for the French – “…Crappoes of Frenchmen are but poor devils in the fishery…” (363). Stubbs revels in mocking the captain and his ship, but does not stop there. In the following chapter, we see the motive, Ambergris, behind swindling the dried whale from the aggravated crew. As with the Germans, Melville comments on the lack of skill and knowledge of the very profession the men partake in. He makes a point to make the captain of the Rose-Bud a novice, “his first voyage” (365). Not only that, but the members of the crew allowed their captain to be swindled (as I’m sure more than one person spoke/understand English) – aroma or not. It’s a bit of stretch, but around the time Melville wrote Moby-Dick, Europe was all abuzz with revolution due to social unrest and adjustment. I am focusing on the encounters of fellow whaling vessels, so attention to the detail of descent throughout the novel would no doubt reveal other satirical elements.
The last three boats encountered all hailed from Nantucket. We need not have read more than a few chapters to see how much Melville appreciate this harbor. A common theme among the ships, though very different in nature, is reason – rational thought. The Bachelor, not coincidentally the first Nantucket boat met and the most successful of any boat mentioned, offers Ahab reprieve from his black brow. Of course he refuses, but we are shown a side of whaling that is new to this point: real success. For the first time, the crew stares on in envy of another ship. Being a Nantucket-manned ship as well, the Pequod thirsts for oil as well as its reward – objects of a hollow goal to their captain (money). This may have been a turning point in the novel; a real chance for Starbuck to re-establish his capitalist goals and spark those New England needs, but the show goes on.
The Rachel and Delight have both suffered, though are reasonable in the aftermath. Both encounters end with picture-perfect foreshadowing and both offer Ahab reasons to deviate from his unholy crusade. The subtly of symbolism in this instance of the Rachel is out-weighed by the significance I found when I researched the biblical Rachel. She was a bargaining tool of her father, who married her to Jacob – but not until Jacob was tricked into marrying her older sister as well. Jacob and his wives leave their father. A long story short, Rachel stole idols from her father, and was cursed to death by them. She would die shortly after child birth. The parallel, though faint, is in the Rachel’s decimation and death at the hands of Ahab’s idol – the White Whale. Furthermore, Ahab does not heed such an event and will suffer the same fate by the jaws of a false god. All this pays tribute to Melville’s use of the Nantucketers to portray a sense of reason that Ahab can only be slapped with so many times before his unlearned lesson kills him. Each encounter serves as a lesson, observed or not, and a look at the world as Melville knew it.
Pip, which is seen by some as a crazed man, made a pretty clear message towards Queequeg. As Pip spoke Queequeg lay in his coffin with his eyes closed probably listening intently and thinking, for what Pip had to say was strong and powerful to Queequeg. I am not totally sure if this was the intentions of Pip, but I think Queequeg took Pip’s example of himself being something he did not want to happen. Pip says that Pip is lost in Antilles and tells Queequeg to comfort him if he so finds him. I believe this is Pip giving an example of what it would feel like to die knowing you still have an important task to complete. He goes on to tell Queequeg that he is basically a hero and what I consider a warning about dying too soon.
“Let’s make a General of him! Hark ye; if ye find Pip, tell all the Antilles he’s a runaway; a coward, a coward, a coward! Tell them he jumped from a whale-boat! I’d never beat my tambourine over base Pip, and hail General, if he were once more dying here. No, no! shame upon all cowards – shame upon them! Let’em go drown like Pip, that jumped from a whale-boat. Shame! shame!” (Melville 523).
Again I am not sure if Pip intended this but I feel that his speech stuck Queequeg significantly. When Pip talks about Pip he calls him a runaway, a coward. This is something no man or human would want to be said about them after death. I feel that Queequeg laying in his coffin in silence, heard this as a warning. He left his native land as a prince looking for ways to better his people by coming to America. The plan was to gather information and bring it back to his people to make them stronger. In Queequeg’s mind I think he didn’t want to be considered a runaway or a coward because he left his people and did not return. Pip says to make Queequeg a General, which I am interpreting as an honor. If this is the case, Queequeg feels that he is not disserving. I agree with him because he has not completed his mission and he knows that. It is evident that Queequeg realizes that he is not finished with his life and he even says that he recalled a little duty ashore which he is leaving undone. This is clearly what I stated before about the coming back to his people. The interesting thing is that if not for Pip’s speech would Queequeg have not realized that he was not ready for death? I am daring enough to yes. This is why the speech is so important to the greater scheme of things in the novel. Queequeg deciding that he was not going to die because as Ishmael narrated it, “a man made up his mind to live, mere sickness could not kill him…” In doing so, Queequeg makes a chain of events occur that if he would have died, seem to be impossible. Making the coffin now his storage place, Queequeg spends hours carving his own tattoos on the coffin itself. This becomes important when the Pequod sinks and everyone including Queequeg dies. Ishmael who was thrown overboard is saved by the floating coffin (Queequeg). Then, Ishmael ends up taking the second hand carvings that were on the coffin and places them on his own body via tattoo. He goes on to stay on an island in the south Pacific so, even though Queequeg could not make it back to his people, it is as if he sent Ishmael in his place. This is all compelling and makes for a great novel but the truth is the plot of these major events during the end of the book could not have been possible if not for poor, little Pip. He saved Queequeg who then went on to save Ishmael. And the saving of Ishmael creates a happy, peaceful death for Queequeg because he did not run away from his mission or his people. I early said that I was not sure if Pip knew what he was saying, but I’m changing that outlook. I believe he knew and although he may come off as crazy I call him a savior. That is what his goal was, to save Queequeg. If he did not it, would be too coincidental and I believe would be a flaw in Melville’s writing. Pip may not be the main character in the novel, but without his well timed interjection the outcome of this adventure could have ended up a lot different.
Fedallah has often puzzled and dissatisfied critics (Isani 386). He can be generalized as Ahab’s alter ego and a personification of evil, but his lack of character development left me wondering what the point of his presence was in the novel’s main argument. He is a man guided strictly by his orthodox religion, which ironically reduces his religion to ritual. In this matter of faith, Fedallah is both a foil to the rationalistic rebel Ahab and a reminder that orthodoxy is not without its dangers (Isani 385). In order to better understand his actions, one needs to understand his religion—which is his main motive for the course of actions he takes.
He is a Parsee, which is a very orthodox-based Indian branch of Zoroastrianism. As discussed in class, the main points of this religion is the bases of the two Gods—one good and one bad. “The Zoroastrians think that of animals, such as dogs, fowls, and urchins, belong to the Good God Ahura Mazda, and water animals to the Bad God Ahriman” (Isani 387). The latter point may imply the reason as to why such a religious man chose such a barbaric career; he may see whales as the offspring of his God’s enemy. This also shows that Fedallah is not actually the evil figure he is brought out to be, but a soldier of the Good God. If one views Fedallah as a soldier of Good, his actions on board the Pequod become even more obscured. For instance, many times throughout the novel, the Parsee is described as worshipping fire (often a symbol of raging and destructive evil):
“Fedallah; tail coiled out of sight as usual. What does he say, with that look of his? Ah, only makes a sign to the sign and bows himself; there is a sun on the coin—fire worshipper, depend upon it.” (Ch. 99).
“The hard pressed forge shooting up its intense straight flame, the Parsee passed silently, and bowing over his head towards the fire, seemed invoking some curse or some blessing on the toil” (Ch. 113).
The first example takes place during the crew’s discussion about the value of the doubloon; while everybody is discussing its worth, the Parsee simply bows to its engravings. This portion exemplifies Melville trying to make Fedallah look evil, as he writes of him as a demon-like character—tail coiled out of sight as usual. The next example shows Fedallah secretly bowing to Ahab’s weapon as it is being forged. This scene once again purposefully leads the reader into an ambiguous understanding of his motives, as Melville does not specify whether he uttered a curse or a blessing.
“There is, in truth, nothing that can be seen or felt, which combines so many symbolic attributes of splendor, terror, and beneficence, as fire” (Isani 385). With a stronger understanding of the metaphysical concepts surrounding Zoroastrianism, one would see that neither fire nor light can be evil; instead, it is a symbol of enlightened truth (Isani 386). With this in mind, I find it a curiosity that Melville painted such a misleading picture of Fedallah—did he purposefully portray him through the racism of the Christian crew or did he want him to be inherently evil? Perhaps he wanted Fedallah to symbolize the extremities of orthodox religions?
This last argument is reinforced by the Parsee’s failure to abort the hunt for Moby-Dick, even after his prophetic foreknowledge of his own fated death upon the water. He continues to hunt the whale only in his devotion of ritual and sacrifice. He knows that his body is “destined to defile the sacred ocean” (Ch. 113), and that his death will signal the imminent death of Ahab. With these half-truths, Fedallah deceives and uses Ahab for his own orthodox religious ends, as he misleads Ahab into believing his death can only occur on land via hanging. Disregarding reason and seeking justification solely in faith, he perpetuates evil in the service of the Good God and does not recognize the paradox of his actions. (Isani 389-390). And, as predicted, he does sacrifice himself as a ritual for his religion, as well as indirectly sacrificing the rest of the crew in the process.
Through my research of the Zoroastrian religion, and the more specific Parsee branch, my point of view of Fedallah has changed immensely. I no longer distinguish him as a demon-like worshipper of an evil religion, like Melville and the Pequod crew tried oh so hard to do. I am now able to understand the reasons for his unclear actions during the novel; however, this has also caused me to feel a sense of sympathy—not necessarily for him, but for the people like him that turn to the outer extremities of religion and end up being consumed by its false promises. To reiterate, I do not want readers to picture Fedallah as either good or bad; instead, see him as a symbol of the countless unnecessary deaths caused by the over-belief and over-exaggeration of one’s faith.
The story of Moby Dick is set almost completely at sea. The sea, however, provides more than the just the setting of the novel, but also plays an important role symbolically. Similarly, the land also plays a symbolic role in Moby Dick. Although it is not as much a presence as the sea, for obvious reasons, the land, and all that it stands for and symbolizes, is an important part of understanding Moby Dick.
Ishmael’s first discussion of land comes in the very first chapter: “But these are all landsmen; of week days pent up in lath and plaster—tied to counters, nailed to benches, clinched to desks.” (4) In this section, Ishmael is discussing landsmen who live in by the shore and look to the sea. In this description, it seems as if these landsmen are almost prisoners. They are “pent up,” “tied,” “nailed,” and “clinched,” trapped on land but looking towards the adventure the sea offers. When Ishmael goes on to discuss his own reasons for wanting to become a whaleman, it is clear that in the beginning, Ishmael does view the land as a sort of holding room. He is restless to leaves the confines of dry land and get out on the ocean, which provides a seemingly endless opportunity for freedom.
Ishmael goes on to criticize the land and its occupations when he discusses the importance and honor of whaling. He believes that to a true whaleman, the sea can provide the same simple comforts as the land: “With the landless gull, that at sunset folds her wings and is rocked to sleep between billows; so at nightfall, the Nantucketer, out of sight of land, furls his sails, and lays him to his rest, while under his very pillow rush herds of walruses and whales.” (71) Even “out of sight of land,” the whaleman gain all the same ease from the sea as he would from land, rending the land less important that the sea, for the sea also provides a livelihood and home for these men. When describing the whalemen Bulkington, who at the beginning of the novel has just landed and is already eager to sail off again, Ishmael says “The land seemed scorching to his feet.” (116) This goes beyond merely saying that to whalmen, the land is less important than the sea, but also says that to a true whalemen, the land is that same prison it was compared to in the first chapter. Ishmael goes even further in criticizing the land when describing what it does to ships: “one touch of land, though it but graze the keel, would make her shudder through and through.” (116) With this, the land becomes not only imprisoning, but actually dangerous.
In the final paragraph of this same chapter, the great ocean is compared to the highest of powers, God, while the land is compared to the lowest of creatures, the worm: But as in landlessness alone resides highest truth, shoreless, indefinite as God—so, better is it to perish in that howling infinite, than be ingloriously dashed upon the lee, even if that were safety! For worm-like, then, oh! who would craven crawl to land!” (117) With this final image, it is clear that the land is to be considered inferior to the sea.
Other images appear later in the novel which also depict the land in a negative light. When Ishmael is talking about the blacksmith’s unfortunate past, he tells of how the mermaids of the sea cry out “Come hither! bury thyself in a life which, to your now equally abhorred and abhorring, landed world, is more oblivious than death.” (529) The land here seems unforgiving, constantly reminding the blacksmith of his life’s failures. Despite these many negative descriptions of land, Melville also portrays it in a positive light. Although the land is portrayed at other points at being “peaceful,” (590) “flowery,” (534) and “steadfast,” (605), the best positive description for the land comes in the middle of the novel:
Consider all this; and then turn to this green, gentle, and most docile earth; consider them both, the sea and the land; and do you not find a strange analogy to something in yourself? For as this appalling ocean surrounds the verdant land, so in the soul of man there lies one insular Tahiti, full of peace and joy, but encompassed by all the horrors of the half known life. God keep thee! Push not off from that isle, thou canst never return! (229)
In this description, all land is an island, surrounded by the harsh, cannibalistic sea. This island is equated to the peacefulness of a man’s innermost soul, the only part untouched by the “horrors” of life.
Although these many descriptions of land, both negative and positive, seem contradicting, I think that they all portray land in perfect contrast with the sea, and thus set the land up as the sea’s symbolic opposite. The sea is portrayed as the superior to the land in almost everyway, even if the sea’s superior power means it is less peaceful than the land. Even the land’s greatest living being, the elephant, is directly compared to Leviathan, and found to be in every way inferior to the sea’s greatest beast. If Moby Dick can be seen as God, or at least as godly, then the sea would be his heavenly realm. This leaves the inferior land to be just what it is: earth. While the god that Melville portrays in Moby Dick, often through the whale himself, is certainly a vengeful and unforgiving god, this god is still far superior to anything that the land has to offer. The land may be a flowery, steadfast sanctuary of peace, but based on the entirety of the novel, Melville seems to believe that a life lived completely on land is not a life fully lived.
To go a little further, if we view the sea and those that inhabit it as being god-like in their power, then where does that leave the inferior land? I believe that in comparison to the godly sea, land seems almost human. Land, just like man, can have its positive characteristics. But land, just like man, can destroy things. Man can also be vengeful and unforgiving. Man can imprison, and man can be unwelcoming and useless. If the sea is everything god-like and superior, then why shouldn’t land represent the epitome of everything flawed and inferior to God: mankind.