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

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Challenging Writing as a Male Tradition in Naslund's Novel, Ahab's Wife and Melville's Moby Dick

In Sena Jeter Naslund's novel Ahab's Wife, there is repetitive reference to "the chaos of the waves (40);" Naslund uses these images of turbulent water in contrast to the precise and patterned nature of stitched quilts. She equates the process of "writing a book" to the "posture of sewing (70)." She asserts "when one stitches, the mind travels...And books, like quilts, are made one word at a time, one stitch at a time (70)." The consequences of making this type of connection within a literary narrative authored by a woman writer are penetrative to the fundamental assumptions about the creation of literature. I put forth, then, the theory that Naslund knowingly mocks the concept that writing, particularly writing to make literature, is primarily a male tradition, the prevailing thought during Una's existence as a fictional character.

Naslund derives Una from Moby-Dick, takes a peripheral character in a major novel about a man's "war upon the deep (18)," a novel she knows has been marked a classic and has endured beyond its time period, and compels the shadow-figure of the male's narrative into the prominent voice of a female's narrative. What is produced by the male becomes a reproduction by the female. In effect, tradition is usurped, inversed, and woman dominates the text, a text birthed by Melville, a hugely lauded male author. Therefore, man author exchanges positions with woman, becomes impregnated by a story, tells the story, brings the story into existence. The woman author takes the story and retells it, reclaiming it as her own, brings a new story into existence. She overshadows the object of fiction previously created and through intertextuality connects herself to the expanse of literature. She blatantly utilizes the man's text to her own literary advantages, and discovers an act of erecting a memorial for women through "one word at a time."

The "stitching" of "one word at a time" in direct opposition to the journey of man's mind which "travels...with ax and oxen through the wilderness (70)" explicitly undermines Ahab's journey, his "war upon the deep," whether or not Una is aware of the disruptive quality of her stream of consciousness. Una suggests that "writing a book...which men

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