Posted in Fiction

More from Moby-Dick…

I’m slowly making my way through Melville’s Moby-Dick and enjoying it very much.  I like the way Melville made each chapter relatively short and, while a plot does exist, many of the chapters could be read by themselves and stand alone.

In Nathaniel Philbrick’s book Why Read Moby-Dick? , he emphasizes the American aspect of the novel.  As I’m reading about the exotic Polynesian Islands along with characters like Queequeg, the pagan cannibal, I can easily forget that Melville has written an American novel.  While Ishmael is narrating his sea travels, Melville frequently has him refer to definitively American geography and landscape such as Cleveland, Buffalo (the city), the mountains of Virginia, the Great Lakes, the Great Plains and buffalo (the animal).  One of my favorite chapters so far (chapter 54) is “The Town-Ho’s Story (As told at the Golden Inn)”- just to clarify, the “Town-Ho” is the name of a ship.  This ship deals with a previous sighting of the White Whale, Moby-Dick; however, one of the more interesting details to me involved the Canallers  aboard the ship – those men who went from working on the Erie canal to being whalers in the South Seas.  Melville, through his storyteller, describes the Canal and the land around it with a realistic but poetic pride; but the passage that I thought the most telling spoke of the transformation of American occupations along with the change in religious ideas:

…to many thousands of our rural boys and young men born along its (the Erie Canal’s) line, the probationary life of the Grand Canal furnishes the sole transition between quietly reaping in a Christian corn-field, and recklessly ploughing the waters of the most barbaric seas.

The above painting is on the cover of my copy.  It’s entitled “Peche du Chachalot” by Ambroise Louis Garneray.  Over the course of several chapters Ishmael determines that very few artists are able to do justice to a whale.  He decides that this is probably a result of the difficulty of seeing a whale in it’s entirety.  While the French made up a very small portion of whalers compared to the American and British, Ishmael indicates that French artists were able to best capture whaling action.  He suspected them of being tutored by Americans or British.

Meanwhile, Ishmael has become only vaguely acquainted with Captain Ahab and his vengeful purpose for The Pequod.  

5 thoughts on “More from Moby-Dick…

  1. I’m reading Moby Dick now, as well. I”m about 200 pages in but need to read 200 more today. So far, the novel does not seem particularly American to me; I think it combines the American with a lot of cultures, which is evident just by looking at the nationalities of the sailors. Perhaps looking at the un-American will highlight Melville’s interpretations of what is American.

  2. Hi Briana
    I’d say the “American” aspect of the novel is definitely from Melville’s unique perspective. I’m only on page 280 and I’d love to read 200 pages in a day! But unfortunately I don’t have the time. Hope you enjoy the rest of it!


  3. Hi Dale,
    I love the painting! I am also enjoying following your progress. I remember “The Town-ho’s Story” but didn’t remember there being other independent stories within the novel. You have almost inspired me to re-read this classic – its been about twenty years ago now since I’ve read it… I should probably get back to Anna Karenina and finish it first, though, 🙂

    1. I really like the painting, too. The overall story of Moby Dick seems to be woven into chapters that in many cases are almost independent. I think it would be interesting to read the book a second time just randomly choosing chapters.

      Are you enjoying Anna Karenina? Or, like War and Peace, do you feel like you’re getting bogged down with it?

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