’S Moby Dick And Bartleby Essay, Research Paper
Herman Melville’s stories of Moby Dick and Bartleby share a stark number of similarities and differences. Certain aspects of each piece seem to compliment each other, giving the reader insight to the underlying themes and images. There are three concepts that pervade the two stories making them build upon each other. In both Moby Dick and Bartleby the main characters must learn how to deal with an antagonist, decide how involved they are in their professions, and come to terms with a lack of resolution.
Ahab is dedicated towards regaining control of his life by conquering the whale. His obsession with Moby Dick is what fuels his desire to spend months and months at sea. Ahab is so involved that he tries to get into the mind of the whale. He becomes obsessed with the whale’s every move. Similarly, the narrator is highly analytical of Bartleby’s behavior. He feels the need to know exactly what it is that makes Bartleby ‘tick’. Eventually the narrator is mentally defeated by Bartleby and is forced to change the location of his offices in order to avoid him. Ahab on the other hand is constantly chasing his antagonist and does whatever he can to get closer to Moby Dick.
The amount of involvement in one’s profession is another important theme in the two stories. Ahab takes his job as a whaler quite seriously. He is obsessed by the desire to destroy the whale that shattered his life. In contrast, the narrator of Bartleby does not seem to be quite as involved. In the opening paragraph he refers to his job as an ‘avocation’ implying a lack of seriousness in it. Both Ahab and the narrator’s lives are damaged by what they come across in their professions. Ahab sees Moby Dick as something he must destroy to regain what he has lost in his life, specifically his freedom and mastery over his world. Eventually Ahab is destroyed by his profession which was centered on his desire for revenge. Bartleby’s entrance into the life of the narrator puts a huge strain on his profession. In fact he must retreat from Bartleby in order to regain control of his life. The narrator says “I must quit him, I will change my offices.”
Both Ahab and the narrator are plagued by a lack of resolution in their lives. Ahab was mentally defeated by Moby Dick. He made it his life goal to destroy the whale that took his leg. His obsession became all encompassing and lead to his eventual demise. Similarly, the narrator is unable to comprehend Bartleby’s world. Bartleby’s behavior starts to drive the narrator crazy. Finally when Bartleby dies, the narrator is left with unsettling emotions and is still filled with questions. Ahab’s death leaves his life’s work unsettled. The focus of his life, the whale, overcomes him in the end. This is because Ahab is completely unwilling to settle for anything less than a fight to the death with Moby Dick.
Although the two stories have such a different subject matter, it is quite remarkable that such parallels exist. The fact that such universal themes exist in both stories is what makes them such an important part of literature.