Essay PreviewMore ↓
Two stories were recently told to me, independently of one another, and although I was struck by each, it was a third story that emerged from the collision of the first two that most challenged me. The first story is about the violence of literature: "That's my current definition of literature: a cataclysmic event, one that disrupts what we think we so-settle-edly-know..." (Dalke). The second story is a definition of violence that I heard used in the context of a conversation about racism. "Violence is the denial of humanity." Although the implication seemed to be that humanity is denied to the victim of violence, I also suggest that violence diminishes the humanity of the perpetrator.
Looming at the point where these two stories encounter each other is a pair of screaming questions. 1) What does it mean to deny humanity? And 2) How can this definition of violence be reconciled with the assertion that literature/storytelling is violent when storytelling is a fabulously human phenomenon?
Initially, I was compelled by Dalke's definition of literature as cataclysmic and violent, partly because my immediate reaction was to disagree. Is not literature a tool that we use to cling together and to ever more profound meaning? Must literature deconstruct in order to recreate and expand? In concert with this skepticism is another story about literature which maintains that the actual number of stories is very few. All stories can be reduced to, at most, a dozen types or formulas within which storytellers maneuver creatively in order to extract new things from the old patterns. Violence suggests that something is being destroyed or detracted (I will turn to the specific target of humanity in a moment), so if literature is violent, must we conceive of these variations on a formula as somehow depleting the underlying structure? Alternatively, violence suggests that literature is a process of cannibalizing old formulas in the creation of new. This version creates the space for an infinite number of story types.
So, is literature violence or clinging? Or are these two things ultimately the same? The story of violence as the denial of humanity is where I begin to search for an answer. The elemental gesture of humanity is the desire to transcend itself, to know the universe, to grasp the absolute truth. But, this clinging to meaning, to greater meaning, is destructive because it implies something incomplete about humans and sets us up for failure.
How to Cite this Page
"Melville's Moby Dick: Defining Violence in Literature." 123HelpMe.com. 17 Aug 2019
Need Writing Help?
Get feedback on grammar, clarity, concision and logic instantly.Check your paper »
- Examining the Relationship Between Literary Works: Moby Dick and Ahab's Wife Literature changes. One story creates a niche for another story to come into existence, or be written. What is a literary niche and how exactly does an evolutionary text fill it. Who gets to decide. This question is easiest to answer by first establishing what a text cannot do: it does not fill in all the missing gaps. Moby Dick created a niche for another book to come into being: Ahab's Wife. In examining the relationship between the two books, one might say that Ahab's Wife functions in filling in all the missing pieces that Moby Dick left.... [tags: Moby Dick Essays]
905 words (2.6 pages)
- Environmental Consciousness from the Days of Moby Dick to Present Day Melville's oceans do not change: they are inexhaustible and eternal. Not so when we turn away from his pages. Today we see the global commons on the brink of tragedy. We see environmental groups emerging, transcending national boundaries in ways completely unknown to Melville. Through a juxtaposition of then and now, we can trace the process of change from "Moby Dick" to a new global consciousness, through a re-imagining of the oceans.... [tags: Moby Dick Essays]
1157 words (3.3 pages)
- The Problems Defining Genre Genre denotes a systematic way to categorize literature. The term might be considered academic jargon; however, it produces up a set of expectations that allow us to judge literature. These expectations or criteria also allow us to compare with other literature in the same as well as different genres. In spite of these expectations, genre does not dictate a set of rigid rules; in fact, genre is more descriptive than prescriptive. Problems in defining genre often arise because there are frequently sub-genres: romantic comedy might be considered a sub-genre of comedy, revenge tragedy of tragedy and gothic horror of horror.... [tags: Literature Essays Literary Criticism]
606 words (1.7 pages)
- Moby Dick is one of the greatest books written in American literature but when it was first made, Herman Melville was shamed for writing it and hated. After a while Moby Dick was noticed from being a book everyone hated to one of the most popular pieces of literature now. The title Moby Dick is known by almost everyone in America. Originally Moby Dick was called The Whale that was originally published in 1851 but was changed to Moby Dick in a later date. The book starts out with a very famous line called “call me ishmael” which was the name of the main character/narrator who goes out to sea as a merchant and wants to go on a whale adventure.... [tags: Moby-Dick, Herman Melville, KILL, Writing]
1156 words (3.3 pages)
- Moby-Dick is a combination of most elements found in the gothic literature genre, including horror, supernatural events, unexplained forces, and suspense. Captain Ahab and his crew are put on this perilous journey in search of a phantom-like whale while encountering many omens that come with whaling. A large part of gothic literature comes along with the elements of horror and suspense which is commonly introduced to the readers when they least expect it. When the Pequod first sets sail, the introduction to Ahab’s character has been limited to only rumors that have been spread by Captain Bildad, Captain Peleg, and Elijah.... [tags: Moby-Dick, Queequeg, Pequod, Whaling]
1615 words (4.6 pages)
- In 1820 in the Edinburgh Review Sidney Smith said: “In the four quarters of the globe, who reads an American book?” (par. 4). That was the conventional idea concerning American Literature to the conservative British writers. But Melville proved this assumption of the British writers wrong not by arguing with them but by producing a huge work which in its quality is comparable to Shakespearean great tragedies. Melville’s masterpiece Moby-Dick consists of thousands of references, but specially references of Shakespeare are in abundance in this book.... [tags: Moby-Dick]
3251 words (9.3 pages)
- Melville's Trimurti Throughout Moby Dick, Herman Melville offers his reader a mélange of foreign curiosities and exotic points of interest that add both depth and texture to the narrative. The abundance of such exotica, however, can prove overwhelming, and many of the novel's briefly noted yet remarkably important cultural signposts get lost in the mix. Often overlooked, Melville's use of Hindu imagery not only lends a sense of mysticism to the novel, but also helps to define the dynamic that operates between Ishmael, Ahab, and Moby Dick.... [tags: Moby Dick Herman Melville Literature Essays]
5529 words (15.8 pages)
- Ahab as the Hero of Moby Dick One might think it a difficult task to find a tragic hero hidden in the pages of Moby Dick. Yet, there is certainly potential for viewing Ahab as heroic despite unfavorable responses to him by the reader. In the original formula coming from the Greeks, the tragic hero had to be a high-born individual of elevated status possessed of a fatal flaw which resulted in their downfall. With Othello Shakespeare redefined elevated status to include position alone rather than being linked to societal or birth status.... [tags: Moby Dick Essays]
1179 words (3.4 pages)
- Religion and Moby Dick Job was a man of the purest faith. When the world shunned God, Job's faith never declined. Job was a wealthy, handsome man with a beautiful wife and a vast amount of property. At some point in time, Satan made a bet with God that if Job situation was changed, his faith would quickly falter. On this note, God took Job's wealth, his property, his family, and his wife. When times were at their worst, God gave Job pus welts on Job's face, taking his looks. Job's faith, however, did not falter, instead it becamestronger.... [tags: Moby Dick Essays]
3608 words (10.3 pages)
- Herman Melville's Moby-Dick Herman Melville began working on his epic novel Moby-Dick in 1850, writing it primarily as a report on the whaling voyages he undertook in the 1830s and early 1840s. Many critics suppose that his initial book did not contain characters such as Ahab, Starbuck, or even Moby Dick, but the summer of 1850 changed Melville’s writing and his masterpiece. He became friends with author Nathaniel Hawthorne and was greatly influenced by him. He also read Shakespeare and Milton’s Paradise Lost (Murray 41).... [tags: Herman Melville Moby Dick Essays]
1914 words (5.5 pages)
- The Cruelty of Animal Research, Testing, and Experimentation
- The Ineffectiveness of Affirmative Action in Establishing Diversity
- Alcohol and Despair Depicted in Ernest Hemingway's Short Stories
- Suppression of Individuality in Radiohead's, Fake Plastic Trees
- Herman Melville: The Great American Writer
- The Modern Witch and the Use of Witchcraft
In this sense, clinging to anything that we know is, in a sense, self destructive because we are constantly driven to expand and change this knowledge. By clinging we become reliant on something that is unreliable and we therefore inevitably experience rending, deconstruction- violence. The implication that follows is that in order to survive we must drift, release. But what is the difference between being out to sea (drifting) and being unmoored (the inevitable fate of clingers)? A circularity emerges in which we ask: What is the value of survival in the absence of meaning and what is the reason for clinging if it is unsustainable?
The tension and union between these oppositional forces create the urgency and destabilizing brilliance of Melville's Moby Dick. "It is through the encounter between these two principles - the widening embrace of Ishmael and the "monomania" of Ahab - that Moby-Dick takes form" (Delbanco, xix). Delbanco goes on to suggest that at the heart of Moby-Dick is a dilemma that Melville takes on more explicitly, but less gracefully, in a later novel, Pierre. "In Pierre, Melville confronts head-on the possibility that the idea of transcendence - the idea of a stable truth that exists outside of time - is not only undemonstrable but fatal to one's ability to live in a contingent world" (Delbanco, xxvi).
Ahab's monomania is the epitome of cling and feverish meaningfulness. Ishmael's dissipated, reabsorbed self is the epitome of drift and release. At the end of the book, Ahab dies (I would argue that the other deaths are part of Ahab's - the characters and ship all serve as lenses to focus Ahab's monomania) and Ishmael survives. But what we know of survival is very changed. Survival is the immutability of an invisible, infinitely expanded character who has gradually and almost imperceptibly divested himself of meaning in the course of the story. Meaning survives only if it continues to dissipate, to spread and percolate and become ungraspable yet malleable. Meaning which is clung to becomes a grave, as Ahab so magnificently demonstrates.
The oppositional reinforcement of these two processes is the evolutionary movement of literature. Stories perpetuate the tension between clinging and drifting, but resolve neither. Literature is humanity and the denial of humanity, a mirror in which we see ourselves. A mirror, at first, may be said to reflect a repetition, a reality in stagnant balance with the reflected. However, the mirror does something much more disruptive. A reflection is a separation of the experience of self from the self as perceived by the other. The mirror tells us a story about ourselves that we cannot otherwise know, but in reaction to the reflected story, our experienced story changes and thus reflects something new. An evolutionary pump is set in motion.
Thus, neither reflection nor the reflected is the whole self, but together they are an ever-changing, evolving dialogue of self. The image we see in the mirror/story moves us on an essentially human journey toward something humanly unattainable. Whether this movement is constrained by the boundaries of formulas or by the recombinant material of parent formulas, the essential quality is change. Stories are the perpetual rebirth of that simultaneously regenerative and fatal human journey.
2004 "Picking through the rubble." The Story of Evolution and the
Evolution of Stories, Course Forum 8: Literature as Listening To/Telling
1992 "Introduction" in Moby-Dick by Herman Melville. New York: Penguin