Free College Essays - The Evil of Mankind portrayed in Melville’s Moby Dick
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Melville’s primary focus in his classic novel Moby Dick is the evil of mankind, a point of focus consistent with his anti-Transcendental philosophical alignment. In Moby Dick, Melville illistrates man’s feelings of evil toward fellow man and nature through his thoroughly developed plot and character. Melville also illistrated this in the components of the thematic layer which, underlies almost every character’s personal motives.
Analysis of Melville’s own motives helps to clarify the author’s reasoning behind each of the examples of man’s evil in his novel. In order to fully understand his anti-Transcendental belief, it is necessary to first comprehend the origin of anti-Transcendentalism. Transcendentalism is the term linked to the Emersonian-Thoreauvian set of beliefs, which incorporated the existence of an Oversoul and the benevolent disposition of man as the default soul. Melville and others like him was opposed to the Transcendental views. The natural opposition to a theory of man’s general benevolence is one of his malevolence toward everything around him; the primary idea behind anti-Transcendentalism was all human people have a capacity for evil and that, given the proper circumstances, the evil in anyone would come forth in their actions.
The plot and characters of Moby Dick contribute to its anti-Transcendental philosophy; the entire story revolves around the evil of man, which is demonstrated in practically each person portrayed in the book. The story itself is about man being pitted against nature, as though the two were never meant to coincide peacefully. The men on the ship must fend for themselves against the harsh maritime weather and the believably evil whales which they hunt. Natural forces ravage the population of the whaling vessel; in the end, only the narrator survives. In turn, man is reciprocally evil toward nature; the men destroy the giant sea creatures for their blubber and drop the stripped carcasses back into the water.
In addition to this collective evil of the people on the ship, many of the individuals are shining examples of humanity’s evil themselves. Captain Ahab, the primary character in the book, makes the sole dedication in his life one of vengeance on the great white whale after which the novel was named. Ahab does, at times, show that he has a less wicked side (signified by the scar that seemingly divides his body into two separate people), but in the end, the evil half of him overcomes his goodness.