Moby Dick Essay

Posted on August 10, 2009

In every great literary work there is a symbolic element that makes the author’s message more detectable to his readers. In Herman Melville’s Moby Dick there is the idea of the “counterpane” of humanity. This theme is mixed in throughout the story as a symbol of the worldТs multiculturalism. Melville shows that the world is a counterpane of diverse cultures, races, and environments, in which we are always connected by our humanity. Melville also uses the open sea as a metaphor for the world and mankind.

The most obvious counterpane in Moby Dick is the crew of the Pequod. Every shipmate on board the Pequod brought some sort of different culture and background to the ship. The three colored harpooners and the three white mates each had their own beliefs about life. The other members of the crew such as Fedallah, Pip, Ahab, and Ishamael made up one big mixture of cultures. It is interesting how the white crew on the ship who in their wildest dreams never thought of putting their lives in the hands of colored people. Yet every one of them was completely dependent on one or all of the colored members of the crew. Without the harpooners the Pequod would have perished long before they even spotted Moby Dick.

One great example of interdependency within the shipmates is the relationship between Ishmael and Queequeg. Ishmael was one of the only crew members to accept other beliefs. His friendship with Queequeg paints the perfect picture of a man to live lovingly and acceptingly with his peers. This dependency is how the Pequod performed. Every member, although each individual was different from the next, did their part in trying to assure the success of the Pequod. The interdependency on the ship transfers over to show the counterpane of humanity.

Queequeg is the signally the most diverse character in Moby Dick. This “dark – complexioned harpooneer” (Melville, 33) represents a vast number of cultures all at once. He introduced to the reader as the man Ishmael will have to bunk with for the night. Their first encounter, Queequeg is portrayed as a savage and Уcannibal” (Melville, 37) who seems ready and willing to attack Ishmael. У . . . but what to make of this head-peddling purple rascal . . . his chest and arms . . . parts of him were checkered with the same squares as his face; his back too, was all over the same dark squares; still more, his very legs were marked . . . It was now quite plain that he must be some abominable savage or other . . . I quaked to think of it. A peddler of heads too – perhaps the heads of his own brothers. He might take a fancy to mine – heavens! Look at that tomahawk” (Melville, 40-41)., Queequeg is immediately portrayed as someone to despair. However, this impression is quickly passed on by the quick shift from Queequeg the savage, to Queequeg the noble and trustworthy friend.

In the chapter entitled “Biographical” (70), the reader is alarmed to find that Queequeg is actually a prince, “His father . . . a High Chief, a King; his uncle a High Priest; and on the maternal side he boasted aunts who were the wives of unconquerable warriors. There was excellent blood in his veins – royal stuff; though sadly vitiated, I fear, by the cannibal propensity he nourished in his untutored youth” (Melville, 70). Still there is another culture that is rolled up into Queequeg, it is that of the Islamic religion. Queequeg follows the Ramadan but only while worshipping an African idol. One of the most precious belongings to Queequeg is his little “Congo baby” (Melville, 41) named Yojo. When he is following his rituals for hours on end, he escapes to another world. His trance is scary to those who donТt understand what he is about. Ishmael thought Queequeg had died before learning of this special fasting period, “. . . there squatted Queequeg, as if he had been screwed down to the floor” (Melville, 97). All of these opinions formed are based on the physical looks of his character. Despite the fact that at first glance anyone would be terrified of this cannibal, he is one of the most outgoing and positive people in the book. “The poor fellow, whom Queequeg had handled so roughly, was swept overboard; all hands were in a panic; Queequeg, stripped to the waist, darted from the side with a long living arc of a leap. For three minutes or more he was seen swimming . . . The poor bumpkin was restored. All hands voted Queequeg a noble trump” (Melville, 75-76). His interesting character builds a fascinating outlook of human emotions. His characteristics are unique to him and yet common to humanity.

The Pequod meets multiple ships in the story each of them represent a different culture of people. For instance, the Town Ho came straight out of Nantucket, the Jungfrau was a ship from Germany, while the Rosebud was from France. Not only were the different ships unique in style and accents, but their views on life and whaling were greatly diverse as well. A great deal of irony was also in the meetings of the Pequod with the other ships. “. . . another homeward bound whaleman, the Town – Ho, was encountered. She was manned almost wholly by Polynesians” (Melville, 239). The ship that came from America was not even being manned by Americans. The Pequod also encounters “. . . another ship, most miserably misnamed the Delight” (Melville, 504). The Delight had seen a tragic whaling attempt just a day prior and was now taking care of the last of the victims. УТI bury, but one of five stout men, who were alive only yesterday; but were dead ere night. Only that one I bury; the rest were buried before they died; you sail upon their tomb” (Melville, 504 – 505). This irony reflects mankind. The multiculturalism of all the different ships proved that we as humans are all connected.

Melville’s knowledge on the nature of mankind has offered examples on three different scales. From the grand sea, to the microcosm of a single human being, he tells the epic story of a whale hunt, while artistically incorporating a countless number of subtleties that describe both the beauty and darkness of the counterpane of life.

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