Comparing Melville's Moby Dick as a Man's Story and Naslund's Novel, Ahab's Wife as a Woman's Story

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Comparing Melville's Moby Dick as a Man's Story and Naslund's Novel, Ahab's Wife as a Woman's Story

Throughout my reading of Moby Dick and Ahab's Wife, I was disturbed by the fact that the most tempting way to situate the two novels in a relationship was to categorize them as "male" and "female." Moby Dick was, of course, the man's story and Ahab's Wife was its womanly counterpart. This comparison makes sense when you consider the gender of the authors, Melville and Naslund, the gender of their respective narrators, Ishmael and Una, and the experiences portrayed throughout the texts. Many readers argue, "There are no female characters in Moby Dick- how could it be anything but a man's story?" In that context, it is easy to position Ahab's Wife at the opposite end of the literary spectrum because the novel is told solely from a feminine perspective. Viewing the texts in this way indicates that our conceptions of gender have not changed much since the days of Adam and Eve. In that story the man, Adam, came first and provided the foundation for humankind. Eve was an afterthought, borne from a single rib. The rib that became Una can be found in Moby Dick- a single reference to Ahab's spouse back in Nantucket. Adam and Eve represent a clear division between male and female that established the gender binary we now impose on these two texts.

I find this dichotomy troubling and ultimately inadequate for several reasons. First of all, I don't agree with the spectrum concept that places maleness on one side and femaleness on the other, then locates Moby Dick and Ahab's Wife at these opposite poles. However, this formula exists in almost every field of study. The scientific term for the differences between males and females of a s...

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...the finishing to posterity." (663) Just as Melville left room for Naslund, she has opened the door for more stories to emerge from Moby Dick and more towers to be constructed.

Sources Cited

Chase, Cheryl. "Hermaphrodites With Attitude: Mapping the Emergence of Intersex Political Action." from "Questions of Gender/Engendering Questions", 130-141

Garber, Marjorie. "Spare Parts: The Surgical Construction of Gender" from "Questions of Gender/Engendering Questions", 361-368

Hemmeter, Gail. "Ambiguous Sexes" from "Questions of Gender/Engendering Questions", 96-118

Melville, Herman. Moby Dick. New York: W.W. Norton & Company Inc, 2002.

Naslund, Sena Jeter. Ahab's Wife. New York: William Morrow and Company, Inc, 1999.

Slaughenhoupt, Bruce L. "Diagnostic Evaluation and Management of the Child With Ambiguous Genitalia." KMA Journal 95 (1997): 135-141.

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