Desire in Herman Melville’s Moby-Dick

2920 Words6 Pages

Desire in Herman Melville’s Moby-Dick

Moby-Dick describes the metamorphosis of character resulting from the archetypal night sea journey, a harrowing account of a withdrawal and a return. Thus Ishmael, the lone survivor of the Pequod disaster, requires three decades of voracious reading, spiritual meditation, and philosophical reflection before recounting his adventures aboard the ill-fated ship.1 His tale is astounding. With Lewis Mumford’s seminal study Herman Melville: A Critical Biography (1929) marking the advent of the “Melville industry,” attentive readers—amateur and professional alike—have reached consensus respecting the text’s massive and heterogeneous structure. Moby Dick, for all its undeniable heuristic treasures, remains a taxonomist’s nightmare. For Melville’s complex narrative is an embarrassment of riches variously described as a novel, a romance, and an epic, as a comedy and a tragedy. Indeed, the text is an anatomy of the adventure story in the tradition of world classic accounts of the epic hero from Gilgamesh to the Arabian Nights, from the 0dyssey to Beowulf.

Although from a formalist perspective Ishmael is clearly the sole narrator, the tale remains markedly divided in expression; that is, the tone, diction, register, and underlying psychology of the account describe two radically different modes of experience. Ishmael in his own voice is empirical, democratic, sane, philosophical, comedic; while Ahab’s discourse is transcendental, autocratic, mad, rhetorical, tragic. Still, like Don Quixote and Sancho Panza (whose class, values, and mind set are separate and discrete) Ishmael, the common sailor before the mast, and Ahab, the demonic ship captain, finally emerge as disjoined fragment...

... middle of paper ...


11 Zizek, 3.

12Zizek, ix.

Works Cited

Fiedler, Leslie. Love and Death in the American Novel. NYC: Criterion Books, 1960.

-----------------. “Come Back to the Raft Ag’in, Huck Honey!” Partisan Review 15 (1948): 2 664-71.

Freud, Sigmund. Civilization and Its Discontents. Trans. and edit. James Strachey. NYC: Norton, 1961.

Girard, Rene. Deceit, Desire and the Novel: Self and Other in Literary Structure. Trans. Yvonne Freccero. Baltimore MD: Johns Hopkins Univ. Press, 1965.

Kristeva, Julia. Black Sun: Depression and Melancholia. NYC: Columbia Univ. Press, 1989.

Melville, Herman. Moby-Dick or, The Whale. NYC: Penquin Books, 1992.

Said, Edward. Orientalism. NYC: Pantheon, 1978.

Steiner, George. Martin Heidegger. Chicago IL: Univ. of Chicago Press, 1989.

Zizek, Slavoj. Enjoy Your Symptom! NYC: Routledge, 1992.

More about Desire in Herman Melville’s Moby-Dick

Open Document