Thursday, April 18, 2013

Classic Wednesday: A Whale of a Tale

By JccKeith

“Call me Ishmael”

Moby Dick is a classic American novel written by Herman Melville and first published in 1851.  The story is told through the eyes of Ishmael, a former merchant marine who has decided to journey out on a whaling ship.  He joins the crew of the Pequod under Captain Ahab after befriending another sailor.  Soon after joining the crew and setting sail, Ishmael learns the true intentions of Ahab.  Ahab has a lust for revenge on a notorious white whale named Moby Dick. 

Ahab’s intent is to find and kill the great whale.  Ishmael finds out the reason behind this quest for revenge is due to a previous attack by the whale.  Moby Dick attacked a ship Ahab was on and the whale bit off Ahab’s leg at the knee.  Ahab is portrayed as quite maniacal and insanely focused on killing Moby Dick.  There are thirty other crewmen aboard the Pequod and each represents a certain type of person.

This novel explores several topics including religion itself, belief in god and in the soul, redemption, revenge, character, morality and in general the reactions of people to the events that befall them.  Aside from the associations between the names in the book and the Bible and certain other aspects and America – the book is rich is symbolism even after these considerations.  For exploration of psychology and the human mind, this book is excellent.

While the topic of the story, which is whaling, may be boring to many, this book can still be read with great interest.  I am not a fan of stories focused on sailing, sailors, whaling or other events taking place in the sea.   Yet I can read Moby Dick time and time again and still find interesting aspects.  I am a people watcher.  I love figuring out motivations.  I like to explore what motivates a person to react a certain way whether it is religion, reason, necessity, emotion, etc.  Melville explores all of these things in his story in such intimate detail it is hard not to be fascinated.

The main message and meaning of this story is what Moby Dick represents and Ahab’s obsession with it.  Moby Dick represents many things to Ahab, the other characters and to the reader.  A key to understanding this story is how all of the characters respond to Moby Dick and how and why it leads to their destruction.  Ahab in particular cannot move past the idea of revenge, of killing the beast.  His pursuit blinds him to all else and leads to his ultimate destruction.

Upon reading this story, you find yourself asking one question, “What, if anything, are you obsessed with?”  Is there something in your life that is taking all of your focus, all of your time and energy and blinding you to reason?  Are you so focused on success, on your destination, that you are blinded to everything going on around you?  Or are you spending all of your time hating someone else?  Hating the government?  Hating yourself?  Are you seeking revenge against someone or something?

Starbuck, the first mate, points out to Ahab at one moment in the story that Moby Dick is merely an animal and holds no malicious intentions to seek out and destroy Ahab.  It is Ahab who seeks out Moby Dick.  Are you doing the same in your life?  Are you feeling like life has been unfair to you?  What does Moby Dick represent to you?  Life?  The universe? Other people?  Feel like life is against you, seeking to make you miserable?  Do you feel like everyone is against you, everyone wants to make you miserable?  Have you forgotten that you have the choice on how to react to circumstances that affect you?

If you haven’t read it, you should.  It is one of those novels that grows on you as you read it.  If you pay attention to the details rather than the topic, you will find it offers a lot to think about.  Or hey, if you’re a fan of whale wars or whaling in general and you find people fascinating, then you are in for a real treat.

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