Comparing Melville's Moby Dick and Naslund's Novel, Ahab's Wife

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Sena Jeter Naslund's novel, Ahab's Wife, charts the sorrows of people who have lost loves. Ahab's Wife is about the healing process after trauma and loss. Naslund's novel speaks to the imperfect, wounded, restless part of humans, the part that is ever questioning the meaning of existence. It teaches healing that is a reaction to this essential imperfection, this essential doubt. Naslund's novel is written as a response to Herman Melville's Moby Dick: about a wounded sea captain who seeks revenge against nature, against "the ungraspable phantom,"1 the "heartless immensities"2 for wounding him. Ahab seeks to overthrow the power in nature that inflicts such pain by leaving the land, leaving the domain of humans, leaving "that young girl-wife."3 In contrast, Naslund's character, Una, responds to the inflicted sorrows of life by turning toward people, by returning to land, by binding herself closely to those she loves. While Melville's novel charts the lives of those who have been cast out by suffering, those who leave society in response to pain, in a search for meaning, Naslund's novel offers an alternative reaction to hardship; Naslund suggests that the essential healing after pain, the meaning of life is provided by other humans.

The first love that Una looses is her husband to be, Giles. Immediately after Una sees Giles die she goes to her best friend (and Giles' best friend), Kit. Naslund describes the scene immediately after Giles' death,

He (Kit), too, had consolation to offer, but I felt numb as stone. The ship rocked us, sometimes my weight bearing toward Kit, sometimes his body leaning into mine. Only my skin was alive. I was a rock covered with a tissue of flesh. Kit put his hand under my skirt and touched my thigh ...

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...that is only one way. There are many ways. We choose."14 Naslund suggests that instead of searching for meaning and comfort in the undulating restless sea, we can find meaning on land, in people, in the space between people, in touch. Human touch fills the absence of meaning.

1 MD 20

2 AW 663

3 MD 405

4 AW 244

5 AW 406

6 AW 410

7 MD 18-19

8 MD 406

9 MD 406

10 AW 343

11 AW 438

12 AW 439

13 MD 427

14 AW 509

Works Cited

Allen, Jamie. 'A 20th century response to a 19th century novel'. Retrieved 4/17/04 from book News: (November 8, 1999).

Melville, Herman. Moby Dick (Norton Critical Edition, 2nd Ed.). Parker, Hershel and Hayford Harrison (Eds.). New York: W. W. Norton & Company. (2002).

Naslund, Sena Jeter. Ahab's Wife. New York: Harper Collins. (1999).

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