The Problem Of Democracy In Harold Kaplan's Moby Dick

analytical Essay
3458 words
3458 words

Harold Kaplan states “that democracy and its moral dilemmas, particularly the problem of human equality, obsessed Melville at the time he was writing Moby-Dick. His mood was almost defiant on the subject…” (164). Melville’s views on the subject were shared by Nathaniel Hawthorne and in a letter to Hawthorne, he elaborates on his “ruthless democracy” in Moby-Dick – “It is but natural to be shy of a mortal who boldly declares that a thief in jail is as honourable a personage as Gen. George Washington. This is ludicrous. But Truth is the silliest thing under the sun” (Melville as quoted in Kaplan 164). In the novel such egotistic claims to Truth, on which the entire edifice of the colonial worldview was erected, as professed by the hubristic white …show more content…

In this essay, the author

  • Analyzes how melville's belief in a "spirit of equality" unites the meanest orders of mankind with the noblest like george washington under the "royal mantle of humanity."
  • Analyzes how ishmael's encounter with new bedford recasts him in the image of the early heroic voyagers who braved the untamed wilderness in establishing the new frontier.
  • Analyzes how ishmael's relationship with queequeg is pivotal in bringing about the growth of his character. he recognizes the shadow line dividing the ‘self/other’ binary and establishes a strong relationship of equivalence and reciprocity.
  • Analyzes how the principle of organization on board the pequod draws a direct parallel with the world at large. ahab contrasts with ishmael in terms of his ‘intimacy’ he shuns and ‘distance’
  • Analyzes how ahab is able to unite the crew by ties that seemingly go beyond race or class while maintaining his hegemony through a carefully systemized pecking order.
  • Analyzes how ahab's fetishistic pursuit of the whale locates and fixes him inversely as a slave to nature.
  • Analyzes how ahab's inability to reconcile himself with the limits of man’s potential posits him in sharp contrast to ishmael.
  • Analyzes how ahab's reenactment of the satanic oppositional philosophy sets the stage for his fall.
  • Concludes that the dangers to an imagined eminence of the self are not located in an exteriority but emanate from the space of inescapable interiority.
  • Analyzes how ishmael's ideological and cultural horizon is entrenched in the calvinistic puritan framework at the onset of the novel.
  • Analyzes how ishmael's interpersonal relationships are established through the contrary modes of intimacy and distance, and the adoption of one mode in opposition to the other functions as a relevant indicator of the character’s self-fashioned subjectivity.

It is fair to say that Ahab’s hatred of the whale reads like an inverted and poisoned pantheism” (Kaplan 170). Ahab sees nature as antagonistic, something to be conquered and defeated, as malicious and deliberately malevolent. He attempts to reinstate the Humanist conception of Man as the Supreme Being, the unquestionable center of the universe and from such a standpoint his dismemberment by Moby Dick is seen as an affront to this supremacy of Man as the lord of the universe, particularly of Nature. Ahab’s anthropocentric ideology dictates the necessity of categorically fixing as inferior this creature which belongs to a lower order of creation, Nature, and thereby rightfully dominating it. This distorted lens for ordering the world masquerades as a justification for his desire to annihilate this monstrous anomaly of Nature as retribution for its arrogant display of power. He is unable to view the loss of his leg as a defensive act by a “dumb brute” (Melville 175) as Starbuck calls the whale but rather as a deliberate, offensive attack on his character and a severance of a part of his identity. His monomanic hunt for the whale is an attempt to restore the scales of power in favour of Man; he has suffered a humiliation at the heroic level and will stop short of nothing but the death of the Leviathan. But the courage or dignity of American heroism taken to an extreme results in madness and Ahab as the ‘fallen angel from grace’ is willing to defy God himself – “I’d strike the sun if it insulted me…Who’s over me?” (Melville 176). However, ironically, his fetishistic pursuit of the whale locates and fixes him inversely as a slave to Nature. In his mad obsession Ahab has already regressed from the type of ‘heroic’ Mankind at the brink of

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