Thursday, October 10, 2019

Moby Dick Essay

Melville’s Moby Dick is widely recognized as one of the most complex and brilliant allegorical novels in American literature. As an allegory, the events, places, people and conflicts depicted in the novel represent not only the obvious surface-level elements of the novel, but stand as indications of the novel’s philosophical and metaphysical themes. The allegory of Moby Dick involves an examination into the nature of reality and also into the nature of good and evil, as defined for Melville partially by America’s Puritan heritage. Melville wanted to portray the essence of evil in a symbol, which was the whale, Moby Dick. When Ahab says â€Å"All visible objects, man, are but as pasteboard masks,† (Melville) he is echoing the allegorical construction of the novel in which each thing, such as the whale, Moby Dick, is merely a â€Å"pasteboard mask† (Melville) which hides the true essence beneath, an â€Å"unknown but still reasoning thing† (Melville) which â€Å"puts forth the mouldings of its features from behind the unreasoning mask† (Melville). For Ahab, the white whale is the mask which disguises truth and the revelation of the nature of reality. In this sense, the white whale becomes a symbol for whatever it is that holds mankind back from the perception of absolute reality. Ahab emphatically reveals his Platonic beliefs when he says â€Å"If man will strike, strike through the mask! How can the prisoner reach outside except by thrusting through the wall? To me, the white whale is that wall, shoved near to me. Sometimes I think there`s naught beyond. † (Melville) In this sense, the whale represents oblivion, the â€Å"naught beyond† which in Ahab’s mind is plainly associated with death. It is toward the heart of the nature of reality that Ahab strikes with his blood-sealed harpoon, not merely a fish in the ocean. For Ahab the white whale represented both ultimate reality and the wall which separates man from ultimate reality. Ahab’s view of nature and reality is that the visible world and all of the events, people, and actions in it are indicators of deeper, more profound, metaphysical ideas and experiences: when he hunts the white whale which represents evil and oblivion, he is hunting the absolute nature of evil, not merely one of its beasts. The intense hate that Ahab feels for the white whale helps to distinguish Ahab’s view of reality as presented in the novel form the vision of reality Melvile was trying to establish by way of the allegory of the novel. While Ahab believes the white whale to be the symbol of evil, Melville’s depiction of evil through the allegorical structure of Moby Dick is shown, ironically, through Ahab himself and not through the symbol of the whale. Instead, for Melville, the whale symbol indicated the cosmic universe and was exhaustively related through his use of cetological detail and science. In this way, Ahab’s obsession and hate are shown to be a tragic flaw along the lines of some of Shakespeare’s heroes, after whom Ahab’s dialogue explaining his motives for hunting Moby Dick are clearly derived. As Ishmael gains a closer, more intimate apprehension of whales, the development of his character and spiritual insight are correspondingly elevated. The more detailed are the cetological experiences and catalogues, the more wholly expressive and self-possessed and sure becomes Ishmael. Still deeper correspondences between the cetological material and Melville’s narrative form are established in Ishmael’s descriptions of the whales â€Å"blubber† and â€Å"skin† which he posits as being indistinguishable. This is reflected in the narrative structure of â€Å"Moby Dick† where it is equally as difficult to apprehend where the â€Å"skin† (overt theme and storyline) of the novel ends and the â€Å"blubber† (cetological and whaling discourses and catalogues) begin. Melville makes it perfectly clear that the â€Å"blubber† is an as indispensable part of his novel as it is for the whale’s body. â€Å"For the whale is indeed wrapt up in his blubber as in a real blanket or counterpane; or, still better, an Indian poncho slipt over his head;† (Melville) therefore, too, is the expository material, the â€Å"blubber† of the novel wrapped around its central, allegorical aspects. The detailed cetological aspects of â€Å"Moby Dick† may, indeed, prevent the reader from an easy, and immediate grasp of the novel’s â€Å"meaning† or even its astounding climax. Just as the whale’s hump is believed by Ishmael to conceal the whale’s â€Å"true brain† while the more easily accessed â€Å"brain† know to whalers is merely a know of nerves, the secret â€Å"core† of â€Å"Moby Dick† can only be pursued with patience and close, deep â€Å"cutting†due to the organic and harmonious nature of its narrative form. By keeping in mind the previously discussed aspects of the relationship between â€Å"Moby Dick’s† comprehensive cetological materials and their symbolic relationship to the novel itself, its form and themes, Ishmael, while discoursing on the desirability of whale meat as fit food for humans, offers an ironic gesture toward the novel’s probable audiences. â€Å"But what further depreciates the whale as a civilized dish, is his exceeding richness. He is the great prize ox of the sea, too fat to be delicately good† (Melville).

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