Sunday, February 5, 2012

Moby Dick: There She Blows!!! Finally.

Author: Herman Melville
Originally Published: 1851
Length: 648 pages
Source: Library
Event: Moby-Dick Readalong at The Blue Bookcase

Personal Enjoyment Factor: 3.5/5

(No major spoilers in the post.  I let it slip that we meet MD, but I think most readers will expect that, right?  I do however talk about myself too much, so if you want to avoid that...)

"Hast seen the White Whale?"

I did! I did! I did see the white whale, Ahab!  I'm just as excited as you are, Oh, Captain, my Captain, since I had to wait until page 600 of a 634 page book...

For those of you who have read this as part of the readalong or not, don't you feel like you could talk about Moby-Dick for hours and hours and only scratch the surface?  I am filled with so many thoughts and possible directions to take this wrap-up post, I've had trouble figuring out a way to organize them or focus on any one idea in a neat and tidy way. But I decided that Melville didn't even try to do this, so why should I?  Permission granted to myself to ramble.

After all, I suspect that Melville consciously gave himself this same license.  He says at the beginning of Chapter 63, "Out of the trunk, the branches grow; out of them the twigs.  So in productive subjects, grow the chapters."  Obviously he feels whaling is an extremely productive subject, one that deserves an in-depth and detailed discussion.  No need to do any "pruning."  I went along with it, learning the ins and outs of hunting whales, always remembering the frequent reminders that knowing all of these facts will help us to better understand the BIG EVENT at the end.  But now that I'm done, the action in the last chapters seemed so detached from the rest of the book, that I don't think I made the connection that was intended.  Can you believe I was actually bored at the end?  It turns out that I  liked the exposition/philosophy much more than the action.

I thought about Melville a lot while I read.  What I imagined of him kind of reminded me of myself.  I could see him on a long voyage, passing his time by musing on how so many things in nature and the world around us can be compared to life.  I do this all the time!  So much that it almost drives me mad!  Does everyone do this?  I've always wondered.  At the very least, I'm sure that Melville did, because I feel like he was purging it all out into this book.

Also, he likes to take a subject and run with it.  Obsess over it.  Drown in it.  I have this tendency too.  I have a hard time getting through my history textbook because I will latch on to a certain event, and I will want to stop and explore more--read another book, find a fiction book about it, find a documentary, a movie, find artwork, maps, biographies, etc.  But I usually squelch these desires because I do need to finish the course.  Melville, on the other hand, was free to explore his subject intensively, and shared it ALL with us.  Lucky, him, lucky us.  Sadly, whales aren't really my thing, but I have to respect his tastes.

I also imagined him to be drunk while writing parts of this.  And I think he may have been on something when he was writing about the squeezing of the sperm(aceti).  He was getting a little too excited about that for my comfort.  I don't drink or do drugs myself, although I probably come across as a bit tipsy with some of my posts...

Unlike Melville, I need to put the brakes on my ramble at some point.  After all, to go all Shakespearean as he likes to do: "Brevity is the soul of wit."  Neither Polonius nor Melville, or myself for that matter seem to take that to heart, but I will try.

I guess the big questions is, "What does it all mean?"   What was Melville trying to say?  What does Moby Dick symbolize?  I myself don't know.  I have several possible ideas, and I seriously think they all could be supported.  I'm reminded of the scene where different characters look at the gold piece and it means something different to each of them.  Maybe Moby-Dick is the same way.  Take from it what you will.  We are all different, and so we will all come out of it with a different perspective.  Like life.  Whatever we personally believe,  there will always be people out there who see things differently.  There are Ahabs, and Starbucks, and Stubbs, and Queequegs and Ishmaels.  We're all different, but like it or not, we're all in the same boat.  And Moby Dick is waiting.  [Insert Jaws music here.  I know he's not a sperm whale, but go with me here.]

It's a good thing this isn't an English class because that all sounds like a cop-out to me!  But I'm wondering, who do you think you are most like?  The tortured but resolute Ahab, the religious Starbuck, or the jolly Stubb?  As for me,

Call me Ishmael.


  1. I can't wait to hear your thoughts on a reread. Analyzing it in a class would be pretty fun, and it's kind of nice to know there are levels I didn't get to that I might discover on a reread.

  2. I love Vintage covers! I was so excited when I saw that my library had this edition.

  3. :) As I was getting behind in my reading I was thinking, "I've got to finish so Satia can tell me her story!"
    Isn't that exciting when you know your kids can pick that stuff up? In the rest of the book, some of the references are subtle enough that I was thinking maybe I just have a dirty mind, but in these couple of chapters it sure is out there!
    I remember in high school getting into a heated debate about a character in a book and my friend and I were in the minority. I still think we were right :)

  4. Glad I have a second on the "drunk while writing" theory. I was continually thinking about what has made this a classic, and I'm not entirely sure yet, other than that there are glimpses of genius. Mad genius.

  5. I keep thinking about the book, and I think some of its charm is the insane audacity of Melville to expect people to read through so much whale crap! It's still making me chuckle.

  6. Sooooo . . . here's the silly Satia story.

    In class we were reading Moby Dick and after we had read chapter 94, we were sitting in class when the prof asked us what we thought. Silence. More silence. Finally I said, "Well, I didn't realize how homoerotic Melville could be." Picture a collective roll of eyes as everyone in the class dismissed my observation as just another example of my seeing something that simply wasn't there. Then the teacher asked me to point out what I mean and I open to chapter 94 and simply start reading. One of the other students said something about how it really depends on interpretation and then I asked her, "So how do you interpret the word 'bugger'?" (If I remember correctly, this term is used in chapter 95 or somewhere not far from chapter 94.)

    Apparently I was the only person in the class who knew what the term meant but the professor backed me up and eventually people had to come around and see that these were not exceptions and that there are phallic symbols throughout the text. Given how many articles I've since found supporting my interpretation, it still amuses me that I actually had to defend myself.

    But I gave my children Moby Dick on day and said, "Read chapter 94 and tell me what you think." All three were in high school, two were freshman and one a junior (twin sons and older daughter) and all three said, "It's kinda homoerotic isn't it?" Still unsure why the rest of the class hadn't seen it but it gives me a silly story to share.

    I hope you were able to at least grin a few times as you read this comment. They won't always be so long.

  7. I think you may be right, about Melville writing drunk, that is. He does ramble, he does rant, he does get distracted. Sometimes it's a wonder that this book has stood the test of time and not fallen into obscurity. I loved reading this post, although I still don't want to reread the book!

  8. Melville was writing some of it drunk... bahaha, that explains so much! I think you might just be right. The homoerotic stuff was strange. I also thought it was funny/frustrating that we never saw MD until 600 pages in. Unbelievable! I also agree with you on whaling not being my thing. I think I could have read his rambles on a lot of subjects and enjoyed them, but whaling isn't one of them.

  9. oooo can't wait to reread this one in the coming months! Love your write up. Love how even though I DID read it for an analysis class, one doesn't need to analyze it to enjoy it! And that there are so many levels to appreciate..

  10. I love the cover on your edition (Vintage always seems to have the best).