Moby Dick Essay Research Paper Subject English

Moby Dick Essay, Research Paper

Subject: English – Melville: Moby DickGood and Evil in a Morally Indifferent Universe in Moby Dick The moral ambiguity of the universe is prevalent throughout Melville’s MobyDick. None of the characters represent pure evil or pure goodness. EvenMelville’s description of Ahab, whom he repeatedly refers to “monomaniacal,”suggesting an amorality or psychosis, is given a chance to be seen as afrail, sympathetic character. When Ahab’s “monomaniac” fate is juxtaposedwith that of Ishmael, that moral ambiguity deepens, leaving the reader withan ultimate unclarity of principle. The final moments of Moby Dick bring the novel to a terse, abrupt climax.The mutual destruction of the Pequod and the White Whale, followed byIshmael’s epilogue occupies approximately half a dozen pages. DespiteMelville’s previous tendency to methodically detail every aspect of whalinglife, he assumes a concise, almost journalistic approach in the climax.Note that in these few pages, he makes little attempt to assign valuejudgements to the events taking place. Stylistically, his narration isreduced to brusque, factual phrases using a greater number of semicolons.By ending the book so curtly, Melville makes a virtually negligible attemptat denouement, leaving what value judgements exist to the reader. Ultimately, it is the dichotomy between the respective fortunes of Ishmaeland Ahab that the reader is left with. Herein lies a greater moralambiguity than is previously suggested. Although Ishmael is the solesurvivor of the Pequod, it is notable that in his own way, Ahab fulfills hisdesire for revenge by ensuring the destruction of the White Whale alongsidehis own end. Despite the seeming superiority of Ishmael’s destiny, Melvilledoes not explicitly indicate so. On the contrary, he subtly suggests thatIshmael’s survival is lonely and empty upon being rescued: “It was thedevious-cruising Rachel, that in her retracing search after her missingchildren, only found another orphan.” (724) That single instance of theappellation “orphan” as applied to Ishmael speaks volumes when taken inlight of the destruction of the Pequod and her crew. Melville’s inclusionof Ishmael’s survival as an epilogue, a suffix attached to the dramaticdestruction of the Pequod, suggests that Ishmael’s survival is anafterthought to the fate of Ahab and the rest of his crew. Ishmael’s quietwords at the beginning of the chapter, “Why then here does any one stepforth? Because one did survive the wreck,” (723) indicate a deep humilityon Ishmael’s part. The question is then raised of why Ishmael is the sole survivor. It isclear that Ishmael significantly differs with Ahab concerning theirrespective perspectives of the White Whale. Ishmael clearly indicates inthe chapter “The Try Works” how disagreeable he finds the mission andmentality of those around him: ” the rushing Pequod, freighted with savages,and laden with fire, and burning a corpse, and plunging into that blacknessof darkness, seemed the material counterpart of her monomaniac commander’ssoul.” (540) Here, Ishmael breaks his usual detached observancy and boldlydivorces himself from Ahab’s mission and those whom Ahab has recruited toaid him. Ishmael further distinguishes himself from the rest of the crew by beingthe sole non-exploiter of whales in general. Melville makes it clear earlyon that Ishmael initially chooses to ship on the Pequod for the experientialvalue of whaling. It has been indicated that his outlook on the whale isthe only significantly benign one. Whereas Ishmael is terrified by the”whiteness of the whale,” Stubb sees economic gain in the valuable whaleoil, subtly hinted at by his overbearing gloating upon his first kill. Inthe harpooneers, we see a violent savageness, even in Queequeg’s otherwiseloving nature. To Ahab, the whale is a emblem of pure evil. Even prudent,rational Starbuck looks on the whale as a dumb animal, which it is his dutyto exploit.The terror that Ishmael perceives is a consequence of his own vague fear of

the whale’s “nothingness.” What Ishmael fears is the mystical, terrifyingmanifestation of white in the natural world, coupled with its subversion ofthe sense of purity attached to whiteness in the human world. Ishmael isdistinguished from the rest of the crew in his ability to consider theperspectives of the others. In his role as narrator, Ishmael’s ability todetachedly analyze the viewpoints of those around him may be what saves him.Note also, that in his narration, Ishmael is the one character to cast anyreverence upon the grand scale of the whale. Unlike the values the othersplace on the whale, Ishmael is capable of viewing the whale solely for itsbeing, as one of the many viewpoints that he considers through the course ofthe novel.In contrast, Ahab’s views of the whale are singular and focused. Melvilledescribes it as a “monomaniacal” obsession, but it is clear in Ahab’scomplexity that there are other factors at work. Ahab remains virtuallyunidimensional until the chapter “The Symphony,” where he freely shares hisfeelings with Starbuck. In allowing us to see the subtle complexities ofAhab’s obsession, Melville makes it clear that Ahab is not an inhumanmachine of revenge. Ahab’s questioning of “what nameless, inscrutable,unearthly thing is it; what cozzening, hidden lord and master, and cruel,remorseless emperor commands me?” (685) replaces his previous portrait asthe depraved lunatic. The reader is now left to question whether Ahab isindeed maddened by his obsessive hatred, or simply overwhelminglydetermined, but blinded by his anger.Note though, that despite whatever end comes of him, Ahab succeeds inavenging himself upon the whale. Although he is swallowed up by the seabefore he can be fully aware of his success, he does expend his last momentsfulfilling his mission. At the last, he proclaims, “from hell’s heart Istab at thee; for hate’s sake I spit my last breath at thee.” WhateverAhab’s motivations, it cannot be discounted that this objective of is hisbeing realized even with his dying breath.With the characters of Ishmael and Ahab structured into their respectiveplaces, the stage is set for the novel’s finale. The ambiguouscircumstances of the last chapter “The Chase Third Day,” are furthercomplicated by the portrait of the whale that Melville himself composes.Melville portrays whales methodically throughout the novel, approaching themfrom a scientific, sociologic, philosophic and even poetic points of view.Despite the relative benignness of the novel’s previous leviathans, Melvillemakes the White Whale markedly different: “Moby Dick seemed combinedlypossessed by all the angels that fell from heaven.” (715) Despite theseemingly lunacy implied by Ahab’s insistence that the White Whale is anevil force, the ruthless efficacy with which Moby Dick defends himself seemsto vindicate Ahab in the end. It is this mutual malevolency that is theimpetus for the downward spiral of violence begetting violence thatculminates in the mutual destruction of Ahab and Moby Dick.In being left to valuate the respective fates of Ishmael and Ahab, thereader is forced to examine what each character has accomplished or lost inhis choice of actions. Ishmael is fortunate enough to be the sole survivorof the Pequod, but it is left unclear to what traumas he faces. Ahabultimately succeeds in his goal, but does so at the expense of his life, hisship and his crew. Melville makes no attempt to delineate for the reader amoral hierarchy, and in doing so, completes the ambiguity.The reader is then left with the possibility of assigning symbolic relationsbetween the characters. If looked at from the grandest scale, it ispossible to see the whale and the sea as a morally ambivalent cosmos. Ifso, then the fault of Ahab and the crew of the Pequod is their futileattempt to master a force of nature far beyond their comprehension, and aredestroyed for it. The image of Ishmael floating helplessly upon the ocean,without even the wreckage of the Pequod then becomes a strikingly lonelyimage of humanity adrift in a universe neither good nor evil. -another imperative from your friendly local interplanetary Imperial regime -sulik


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