Melvilles Moby Dick Essay

This essay has a total of 1852 words and 8 pages.


Melvilles Moby Dick





Melville was born in a time of American history where inspiring works of American
literature began to emerge. It was also a time when America had not completely separated
its literary heritage from Europe, partly because there were successful literary
genius’ flourishing there. Melville proved to be a genius of his own, with his many
works such as Moby Dick, Billy Bud, and Bartleby. Three distinct themes could be seen
throughout most of his literature; whales and the whaling industry, commentary on the
universe and human destiny, and ideas about God and nature. Moby Dick is an incredible
work by Melville most often referred to as an epic, a tragedy, a novel, an exposition on
the whaling, and a spiritual autobiography. It is often overlooked that a deeper, more
symbolic, meaning may have been the driving force behind Moby Dick.

Herman Melville was born on August 1, 1819, to Allan and Maria Melville. He was the third
of eight children in the Melville family. He was generally described as silent and slow;
his mother thought him to be a very dull child. In 1832 Melville suffered tragedy when
his father died. Finishing school when he was fifteen, Melville took service as cabin boy
aboard the St. Lawrence. After returning to his home in New York for some time after
serving as cabin boy, Melville took berth as an ordinary seaman aboard a whaling ship
called the Acushnet. After approximately four and a half years as a seaman on various
ships, he set down, again in New York, to write of his experiences. Within six years he
had published five books. Shortly thereafter Melville was married and moved his family to
a farm near Pittsfield, Massachusetts. It was at this location where Moby Dick was
written. Moby Dick was first published in 1851. Melville continued to write, both poetry
and stories, until three months before his death in 1891.

Melville’s perspective on life was that God created the universe with an infinite
number of meanings and man is always trying to determine one specific meaning
(Robertson-Lorant 65). It is possible that Melville, through writing, was seeking out
some of his many destinies bestowed upon him by God.

The basis of the name Moby Dick can be traced back to an article in the New York
Knickerbocker Magazine in May of 1839 (Madden). An article entitled Mocha Dick: or the
White Whale of the Pacific recounted the capture of a giant sperm whale that had become
infamous among whalers for its violent attacks on ships and their crews. The reasoning
behind this whales name was quite simple; the whale was often sighted near the island of
Mocha, and the use of Dick was a generic name similar to the use of Jack or Tom. It is
not shown that Melville’s work resembles this article in particular way except the
use of the name and basic idea. The reasoning for the transfer from Mocha to Moby is
possibly the biggest mystery. Melville never explained where the name had come from. It
is possible that the name was something he had invented and just liked the sound of. Many
scholars, however, are not convinced of this and have taken time to look for another
reason behind the change.

By July 1846 even the Knickerbocker Magazine had forgotten its earlier version [of
Reynolds article], reminding its readers of ‘the sketch of “Mocha Dick, of
the Pacific”, published in the Knickerbocker many years ago…’. That
account may well have led Melville to look up the earlier issue, in very month he
rediscovered his lost buddy of the Acushnet and fellow deserter on the Marquesas, Richard
Tobias Greene, and began ‘The Story of Toby’. May not ‘Toby Dick’
then have elided with ‘Mocha Dick’ to form that one euphonious compound,
‘Moby Dick’?” (Madden)

As far as anyone has figured, the name Moby Dick does not represent any certain symbolism
pertaining to Melville’s spiritual self or experiences at sea.

The central character in Moby Dick is Ishmael, a Christian, schoolteacher, and part-time
sailor. Ishmael’s role in Moby Dick is to interpret the happenings about the Pequod
and its crew. He discusses his reasons for going to sea and interprets and looks for
understanding a number of reasons for any specific action where other characters only
understand one reason. Ishmael befriends another Pequod crew member, Queequeg, who is a
cannibal. Even though Queequeg is physically very ugly and cannibalistic, Ishmael sees
that Queequeg has an honest heart, great honor, and is courageous. This friendship had a
positive influence on Ishmael’s behavior, it taught him not to judge others on
outward appearances; although, to some effect, Ishmael had pre-judgments about Captain
Ahab. Representation of the common man was portrayed through Ishmael. He was not wholly
corrupt and faced with many struggles brought about by the sea.

Another symbolic relationship, which was very short, was between Ishmael and the
Pequod’s Captain, Ahab. For the first few days aboard the Pequod Ishmael only saw
Ahab in the shadows. When Ishmael finally saw Ahab in full light shivers ran through his
body. Ishmael could sense Ahab’s attitude of determination, dedication and hatred
towards Moby Dick. This relationship impacted Ishmael in a negative way, Ishmael feared
Ahab and did not want to befriend such an evil person. Ishmael was good-natured and did
not want to be corrupted by Ahab’s evil. To stay from being corrupted Ishmael keeps
himself from being near Ahab. The following passage from Moby Dick shows Captain Ahab as
similar to the devil, controlling the crew of the Pequod and forcing actions upon them to
attain his one insane task.

As they narrated to each other their unholy adventures, their tales of terror told in
words of mirth; as their uncivilized laughter forked upwards out of them, like flame from
the furnace; as to and from, in their front, the harpooners wildly gesticulated with their
huge pronged forks and dippers; as the wind howled on, and the sea leaped, and the ship
groaned and dived, and yet steadfastly shot her red hell further and further into the
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