Saturday, January 21, 2012

Moby-Dick Group Read: Discussion 2 (Chapters 27-55)

I'm behind schedule already on my posting and reading, which is actually not that unusual for me.  This time my excuse is that I had limited time to read, and when I had a couple of hours here and there, I had to choose between working out and reading Moby Dick.  As enticing as Moby Dick is (and I'm not being sarcastic for once), I chose to exercise.  I just kept telling myself, "My health is more important than Moby Dick.  My health is more important then Moby Dick.  My health is more important than Moby Dick," and off to the gym I went.  

Likewise, I needed to employ a mantra to get through this section of the reading: "Pretend it's non-fiction.  Pretend it's non-fiction.  Pretend it's non-fiction."  Because, really, that's what a good portion of this section is.  I had to switch from a high level of fun quirkiness in the first part to textbook mode in this second part.  The good things is, I rather like reading textbooks, so my feelings are still rather positive towards Melville's "draught of a draught" that is Moby Dick.  But the cetology chapter signaled that it was time to shift into learning mode.

Aside from learning about different members of the whale family, the hierarchy of power on a whale boat, and historical accounts of whale hunting within the novel, I did a little outside research to be able to find my way around a boat.  Quarter deck, mast-head, starboard, poop, etc. were all vague in my mind, so I found a couple of diagrams that were helpful:

I also found myself wishing I had some sort of illustrated version of the book.  I know that Ishmael tells us the only way to really know what a sperm whale looks like is to see it for ourselves, and risk death in doing so, but I don't foresee whale-hunting in my future, so instead I searched the sea of Google images:

How bad can he be?  He kind of looks like he's smiling.  Maybe this is what Moby Dick looked like after he munched on Radney.

It wouldn't be quite accurate if I only focused on the inundation of information in these chapters.  Melville does thrown in some peculiarly dramatic stuff here.  Much of it reminded me of Shakespeare, which in turn reminded me a bit of Ulysses.  I had earlier been thinking that Melville's writing seemed to me an unlikely combination of Dickens and Joyce, but I wanted to wait and see how the rest of the book played out.  That Joyce vibe is coming in pretty strong now, albeit without the stream-of-consciousness mumbo-jumbo.  But when it comes to the number of allusions and purges of random knowledge, I see similarities.  But I'm not ready to write a paper on it or anything.  I wonder if Joyce read Moby Dick?  It's the wit in the writing that reminds me of Dickens.  And some of the humor.

I loved Ahab's little pep talk to get the sailors all pumped about finding The Whale.  I did not realize he was capable of saying so much at once, so it was a little shocking.  The chapter about the whiteness of the whale was interesting and beautifully written.  I for one have always been afraid of white--the stains show!

I keep looking for some deeper meaning in Ahab's hunt for the whale that ate his leg off.  But Ishmael says specifically that this tale is NOT a fable or an allegory.  Shucks!  But I don't entirely believe him yet.  I'm still looking.  I have a monomania of my own.


  1. "Call me Ishmael." That opening line should tell the reader that there is so, so much more to this book ( why choose "ISHMAEL?" There is a reason ) than an adventure story about a spermwhale and a crazy man. Melville takes on religion, from Quakers, to hell-fire-and-brimstone babtists to the new age of enlightenment to 'Paganism'.
    Other subjects Melville addresses: Good vs Evil, Ahab as a tragic hero, Ahab as no hero at all, white vs black, racism, the Pequod as a microcosm of pre Civil War America, and much, much more.
    How 'bout that first night when Ismael shares a bed with Queequeg? In that chapter Ishmael tries on a 'sort of cloak' of Queequeg's. He looks at himself in the mirror, gasps, and throws off the garment in a panic. Why?
    Is Ahab the captain's first name or surname?
    Which of Ahab's legs is missing?

  2. VERY interesting...I've started Moby Dick but never made it to the point where they actually ship out! That sperm whale photo somehow frightens the dickens out of me. But not QUITE as much as hammerhead sharks! I like your perspective that you're reading non-fiction--I'll have to try it next time!

  3. The first time I tried to read it, I didn't make it very far either. Sharks scare me more, too!

  4. If only Melville had a good story like Dickens, right? I'm planning on watching the movie when I'm done reading, but I'm trying to figure out how it can be more than 10 minutes since nothing happens!

  5. I would love to find out about that. I keep thinking "A picture is worth a thousand words."

  6. At this point I still have mixed feelings as to whether I would recommend it to anyone or not. I will put in a vote for doing it with a group. I'm having more fun with it than I think I would otherwise.

  7. Those heads sort of grossed me out--maybe I'm better off without a picture of them!

  8. I got behind as well, but I'm finally caught up and hoping to make it to ch. 93 by Thursday. I love your thought about the wit and humor reminding you of Dickens. I didn't think about that, but it's so true. Melville does seem to be very caught up in the "must educate the masses about whales/boats" theme, but the humor saves it for me. I am interested to see where it goes from here.

  9. This is such an informative post! I've not read Moby-Dick and am not sure that I have a desire to- seems to be quite polarizing! But maybe you'll inspire me :-)

  10. Ha! Love this post, Shelley! Speaking of illustrations, have you heard of that guy who set out to illustrate every page of Moby Dick? I read about it somewhere last year ... can't remember where or when or if it was even published ... sounds interesting though.

  11. I LOVE this post! You're absolutely right -- you have to keep shifting your expectations in this book, and when Melville waxes instructional, get into student mindset and try to enjoy the random learning. Great diagrams, too. I agree with you -- I wanted an illustrated version of the book, particularly when they were describing the whale heads being strung from the side of the boat...

  12. Here is the link to the artist mentioned: (The artist who made a work for every page of Moby Dick.)

    I recommend reading Moby Dick in graphic novel format. I finally got through it that way...