Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Readings on Moby-Dick

Post your summaries and critiques of the articles in the comments section below.


  1. Melville Revival (My Perspective) Pages 627 - 640

    All the authors seems defensive in their descriptions of Melville and Moby Dick. Each takes the stance of 'How hasn't anyone else appreciated this masterpiece?' To me, it portrays the book as the underdog of literature and they are leading the charge to make it truly appreciated.
    They greatly appreciate his style and his immensely detailed writing technique. Each article is a call-to-arms, getting their contemporary's to appreciate the book for what it truly is.
    Perhaps because we live in a time where the book IS appreciated, it is easy to agree with what they say and understand their points of view. It makes me want to read more into the book and try to appreciate it myself from their perspective and see what they see in the book.

  2. Camille Paglia provides a highly controversial take on the sexuality in Moby-Dick, as seen from a female perspective. She argues that even though the all male epic seems to demonstrates masculinity, the female concept always emerges. It enhanced awareness of no female characters, but even this still requires female roles. Ahab is seen as a Romantic outlaw who lusts for unconditional freedom because of his lack of romance replaced by lust. Melville tries to eliminate female roles because of the lower order of the female being. And yet a female deity- mother nature, or even the hermaphrodite white whale- ends up dominating the crew. Camille criticizes Melville and his views on being too rigid with any one belief or concept.

  3. Unnecessary Duplicates (674-697):
    Harrison Hayford discusses the appearance of duplicates throughout the story, as well as how they may have come to be through Melville's writing process. Characters, such as Queequeg and Bulkington are analyzed together and found to be duplicates along with Ahab and Pegleg, Ahab and Fedallah, and the three prophets. In addition, Hayford discusses how the stages of Melville's writing may have led to some characters getting bigger parts while others are removed almost immediately. Having these ideas brought to light may help in the understanding of why certain characters, such as the carpenter and the blacksmith, are brought in haphazardly and all of a sudden because Melville may not have realized he needed them until later in his writing. It also helps explain how the events of Moby Dick came together, especially if the sections on land were written before and then revised after the ending. Since it is more content based, I believe the time period does not play a significant role in what the author is conveying.

  4. In the piece by Bezanson he looks at the role of the two Ishmaels. The narrator who is no longer at sea and much older, and also the younger Ishmael who is just another character in the story because the narrator Ishmael is telling the younger Ishmael’s story. He talks about how it is important to separate the two slightly while maintaining that they are the same person just with different experiences. Another thing Bezanson looks at is the comparison between ‘The Scarlet Letter’ and ‘Moby Dick’ and how when the latter is compared to the former it cannot be said to be a classic. It is a collection of different techniques held together as a whole. Also the use of organic metaphors and similes as opposed to the traditional mechanical ones. Another things he points out is that Melville uses chapter clusters which are chapters linked by a common idea or theme. -Emma

  5. Lukas Johnson and Nick Odmark

    Harrison Hayford’s “Loomings: Yarns and Figures in the Fabric”

    Hayford’s article is a close examination of the first chapter of Moby Dick, in which Hayford analyzes the major questions that Ishmael begins the narrative with, including why he decided to embark on a whaling expedition and why he was drawn to the ocean. Hayford also demonstrates the presence of major themes and concepts that become prevalent later in the work. One of the major
    points that Hayford makes in this article is the role that Ishmael plays in the text, not as an active character, but as that “of a sympathetic but perplexed observer” (658). We noted that although we have discussed that Hawthorne had an impact on Melville’s
    work, Hayford’s statement here closed some gaps on the subject. Much like in The Blithedale Romance, Moby-Dick
    features a narrator who is more of an observer of the plot than a presence in the story itself. As Hayford then points out, the larger drama, tragedy and comedy of Melville’s “is to be Ahab’s, not Ishmael’s,” and Ishmael maintains the role of an observer in
    the story (667).
    In response to the question of why Ishmael was drawn to the ocean and the idea of whaling, one can draw the answer from Hayford’s conclusions about Ishmael as an observer. Unlike Coverdale in The
    Blithedale Romance, the audience isn’t constantly
    bombarded with the narrator’s perceptions of the other characters. Ishmael tells of the quirks and situations revolving around characters such as Stubb, Fleece, and Queequeg as objectively as if the reader were seeing these things themselves. This allows Melville
    to tell the story of Captain Ahab and Moby Dick with no preconceived notions in the way, but also allows for Ishmael’s character and personality to subtly reveal themselves, instead of being directly told to the reader. This is first accomplished in attempting
    to answer why Ishmael decided to go to sea as a whaler.

    Hayford talks on page 661 of Ishmael’s passive nature to authority, stating , “But, from the beginning, where he tells of his custom of going to sea as a ‘simple sailor...he announces his acceptance of subordinate positions.” Ishmael not only admits to preferring
    the more menial roles on a whaling ship, but goes so far as to say these desires, particularly the sea in general, are universal, stating “Almost all men in their degree...cherish very nearly the same feelings towards the ocean with me” (18). Therefore, Ishmael
    blames his decision on these desires, and Hayford comes to the conclusion that “Ishmael becomes the passive recipient of conceits that ‘float’ into his ‘inmost soul’ from some exterior source; he is ‘swayed’ by them rather than being their active originator.
    So, just as Ishmael is not the active party in narrating the story, his decision to embark on a whaling expedition parallels tthe passive, subordinate, and almost self-excused stance he takes throughout the book.

  6. Wenke pg 702-711
    "Ahab and 'the Larger, Darker, Deeper Part"

    Wenke begins with Ishmael's question to Captain Peleg- "Who is Captain Ahab?" (702). Ishmael attempted and continues to try to answer this by studying the language and actions of Ahab. While serving on the Pequod, Ishmael has little to no direct contact with Ahab. So once Ishmael is the lone survivor of the wreck of the Pequod, any speculation he gives on the inner-workings of Ahab is just that-speculation. Since Ishmael has lived through the wreck to tell the story, some of his assertions are based in truth and his experience, but "his apparently authoritative assertations coexist with contending attitudes on a continuum extending from utter ignorance, to informed speculation, to qualified knowledge" (703). And as Wenke states, "It is one thing to view Ahab as a monomaniac; it is quite another to examine his unidirectional madness in relation to the great complexity of his character" (703). Ishmael attempts to dig beneath the 'layers' of Ahab, into the very center of his being. Unfortunately for Ishmael, "Ahab's innermost self must remain closed. No inquirer can appropriate the secret of another's being; nor can one transcend the chronological facts of one's own exile from a putatively primal, unifying self" (704). When he can't find complete comprehension of Ahab's being, Ishmael creates a "dialectical model that dramatizes the elemental war racking Ahab" (704). Wenke goes on to make the assertion that Fedallah and Pip reflect the different sides of Ahab's ontology. "Fedallah as the demonic aspect of Ahab's 'characterizing mind' and Pip as the mad, maimed, indigent sign and justification of Ahab's purpose" and "as an expression of Ahab's 'humanities'" (705). Another projection of Ahab's inner self is in the Gods, whom Ahab remakes in his own image (706). Eventually, Wenke comes to the conclusion that despite their opposing ways of going about it, both Ishmael and Ahab "pursue elemental questions of being, agency, and teleology; they attempt to understand one's essential identity as reflected in the passage from origin to ending" (709).
    Despite the best attempts of both Ishmael and Ahab, "the soul-the absolute and unknowable essence-remains outside the time-space of genealogy and constitutes...alluring nondefinition" (711).