Slow Suicide in Melville´s Moby Dick

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As man is bound to his subjective perception, inhibited from comprehending the essence of things, he is forced to apply personal, extraneous meaning to them or find himself devoid of it altogether. Loftiness of such application is the nature of romanticism, and such is the nature of Melville’s Moby Dick. The sea becomes vogue, limbo for the reticent felo-de-se; the untraversed, the nebulous, even the numinous. The Pequod assumes the role of a nation of men—30 men for 30 states is explicit enough—doomed by the mad will of him in power. The Whale either becomes God, myth, the embodiment of evil, or all of the above, depending on which character’s perception is to be taken. Indeed, Moby Dick contains myriad instances of such applied meaning, but the focus of this paper will be that of three of the most prominent: that of the sea, that of whiteness, and that of Moby Dick. Ishmael examines the sea in various ways, and from various perspectives, but in all his examinations, the sea invariably assumes the role of an escape vehicle from the world of the living—temporary or otherwise. When the novel first begins, Ishmael compares his own escape to Cato the Younger’s ultimate remonstration of tyranny: “With a philosophical flourish, Cato throws himself upon his sword; I quietly take to the ship” (14). Though Ishmael lists no political motivations for escaping, he does imply that it is life’s tyranny that engenders the need for it. In any case, the ocean is a means of escape for both him, and, as he asserts, all men. Ishmael describes the sea—and water in general—as inseparably bound with meditation—a narcissistic mediation; in this description, he epitomizes man’s aforementioned romantic (=narcissistic, anthropocentric) applicati... ... middle of paper ... ...uous realm that homes the escapee, the moseying felo-de-se, and the dearly (or not so dearly) departed. Whiteness assumes just as many roles derived from just as many man-medium assertions to its being: the role of beauty, purity, holiness, that of awe, and that of terror. Moby Dick, like much of the imagery in the novel, is enigmatic and open to interpretation. This paper has chosen to interpret his role as that of God, the medium of pulchritude, richness, and meaning in life, but also the cause of suffering. One predominant difference between Ahab and Ishmael is which of these they choose to focus on. Ahab’s assumption of the archetypical hero role, with his one catastrophic flaw being the choice and intensity of his focus, sets and anchors the plot, allowing Melville to tangentially and romantically analyze a plethora of other natural stimuli along the way.

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