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Moby Dick: Retribution, Be It Man Or Beast

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Moby Dick, a novel by Herman Melville, published in London in October 1851 as The Whale and a month later in New York City as Moby-Dick; or, The Whale. It is dedicated to Nathaniel Hawthorne. Moby Dick is generally regarded as Melville’s magnum opus and one of the greatest American novels. Moby Dick can sustain numerous, if not seemingly infinite, readings generated by multiple interpretative approaches. One of the most fruitful ways to appreciate the novel’s complexity is through the names that Melville gave to its characters, many of which are shared with figures of the Abrahamic religions. The very first line of Moby Dick, for instance, identifies Ishmael as the narrator; Ishmael was the illegitimate (in terms of the Covenant) son of Abraham and was cast away after Isaac was born. There are several other Abrahamic names in the book as well, including Ahab that, according to the Hebrew Bible, was an evil king who led the Israelites into a life of idolatry. Melville’s Ahab is obsessed with Moby Dick, an idol that causes the death of him and his crew. The ship that saves Ishmael, the Rachel, is named for the mother of Joseph, known for interceding to protect her children. It is Rachel, as depicted in the Book of Jeremiah, who convinced God to end the exile placed upon the Jewish tribes for idolatry. The rescue of Ishmael by the Rachel in Moby Dick can thus be read as his return from an exile caused by his collusion (because he was on the Pequod’s crew) in Ahab’s idolatry of the whale. Melville’s use of these names grants his novel a rich layer of additional meaning. Between the passages of carefully detailed cetology, the epigraphs, and the shift from a hero’s quest narrative to a tragedy, Melville set the stage for purposeful ambiguity. The novel’s ability to produce numerous interpretations is, perhaps, the main reason it is considered one of the greatest American novels. Melville himself was well versed in whaling, as he had spent some time aboard the Acushnet, a whaling vessel, which gave him firsthand experience. He also did tremendous amounts of research, consulting several scientific sources as well as accounts of historical events that he incorporated into Moby Dick. The Essex, a whaling vessel, was attacked by a sperm whale in 1820. The ship sank, and many of the crew members were either lost immediately or died of starvation as they awaited rescue for nearly eight months. Melville likewise interviewed the story of Mocha Dick, a famed whale who was, like Moby Dick, very white and aggressive and whose name was an inspiration to Melville. Mocha Dick was often found off the coast of Chile in the Pacific Ocean, near Mocha Island. He lived during the early 19th century and became a legend among whalers. In 1839 a story about the whale was written in The Knickerbocker, which was likely the source of Melville’s discovery of Mocha Dick. Unlike Moby Dick, however, Mocha Dick was eventually killed and used for oil. Melville befriended fellow author Nathaniel Hawthorne during the writing of Moby Dick, which led to him dramatically revising the narrative to make it more complex. The novel is dedicated to Hawthorne because of his impact on Melville and the novel. At first, the public was unimpressed. It sold fewer than 4,000 copies in total, with fewer than 600 in the United Kingdom. It was not until the mid-20th century that the novel became recognized as one of the most important novels in American literature. Moby Dick: Retribution, Be It Man Or Beast
Moby Dick famously opens with the narratorial invocation “Call me Ishmael.” The storyteller, like his biblical counterpart, is an outcast. Ishmael, who turns to the sea for definition, communicates to the audience a specific concluding voyage of the Pequod, a whaling vessel. Amidst an account of endured tests, trials, and tribulation, fairness, and delusion, the reader is acquainted with numerous personalities, many of whom have names with religious reverberation. Unique ship’s captain is Ahab, who Ishmael and his sidekick Queequeg promptly discover is dissipating his subconsciousness. Starbuck, Ahab’s first-mate, acknowledges this predicament too, moreover, it is the exclusive totality throughout the novel to assert his condemnation of Ahab’s increasingly obsessive behavior. Aforementioned, the nature of Ahab’s delusion is first revealed to Ishmael and Queequeg after the Pequod’s partners, Peleg and Bildad, disclose to them that Ahab is nevertheless recuperating from a confrontation with a massive whale that resulted in the dissolution of his leg. That whale’s pseudonym is Moby Dick. The Pequod introduces sail, and the crew is forthwith apprised that the aforementioned journey decrees this act be unlike their separate whaling commissions: this course, notwithstanding the disinclination of Starbuck, Ahab purposes to hunt and kill the odious Moby Dick no matter the cost. Ahab, including the crew, continues their momentous voyage and struggles with several obstacles simultaneously whilst on its way. Queequeg befalls ailing, which provokes a coffin to be built in anticipation of the gravest. Subsequently, he recovers, the coffin becomes a replacement lifeboat that eventually saves Ishmael’s life, a befitting rescue that will write ts course in due time. Ahab accepts a prophecy from a crew member familiarizing him with his impending demise, whereto, he neglects. Moby Dick is detected and, for three days, assaults fiercely with Ahab and the Pequod until the whale destroys the ship, killing everyone except Ishmael. Ishmael survives by floating on Queequeg’s coffin until he is picked up by another ship, the Rachel. Another foundling that the sea produces no longer abandoned.
2020 February 11

Copyright © | Year Posted 2020

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