Symbolism and Americanism within Melville's Moby Dick
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Published in 1851, the story of Moby-Dick is not just the tale of one mans search for control over nature, but also the story of friendship, alienation, fate and religion that become intertwined amidst the tragedy that occurs upon the doomed Pequod. The crew itself are an amalgamation of cultures, from the cannibal Queequeg, to Starbuck, "a native of Nantucket." The Pequod can thus be seen as a microcosm for immigrants and whaling within America. In Moby-Dick Herman Melville examines both the exploitation of whaling and the reality of being born outside of America.
Distinctly American in style Melville writes as though "through a stream of his consciousness" # which primarily serves to offer Melville's own meditations upon America. Ahab himself is the embodiment of the desire to explore and conquer, taming both man, beast and nature. An idea that Melville felt epitomised the American attitude. Ishmael himself also remains critical upon people who are not native towards America, and offers stereotypes upon different societies and cultures, ."..your Englishman is rather reserved."# He remains to be critical even of his "bosom friend" Queequeg, "it pained me...to see him...in this foolish Ramadan."#
Melville seems to be offering a critique on this attitude instilled upon America, Ishmael is portrayed as foolish at the beginning of the novel, for although he is in Nantucket, a town of diverse cultures, where "they were used to seeing cannibals" due to the whaling trade. However he himself remains fearful and prejudiced against "savages" such as Queequeg. However through Ishmaels narration the reader is able to witness the progression and development of his character over the course of the novel. We are offered a glim...
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...g voyage that Ishmael is able to pass on the lessons that he learnt, so it can be presumed that he now has taken the place of the pseudo-prophet Elijiah to warn sailors and people alike of their misadventures.
The book in itself is not just a classic because of its symbolic resonance application to the times but because of its timelessness. Every person in society, according to Melville, had the ability to control their fate. Ahab was not able to change as he let the whale control his fate and thus let the whale choose Ahab's own demise. Ahab is not necessarily an American hero, although he had the potential to be, instead Ahab seems more of a warning to America of greed, compulsion and obsession and the tragedy that the three sins lead to. In this book there are no heroes just pupils of Melville's philosophies, and one who fared better than everyone.