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Thread: Moby!

  1. #106

  2. #107
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    Slavery

    Those who have read the Wallace book know that this subject was very important to Melville.

    In the opening Ish asks "who ain't a slave?" The entire human race is on the same boat in this regard. What follows is an academic analysis of this matter:


    https://2012books.lardbucket.org/boo...t-paper-a.html


    the practice of whaling in Herman Melville’s novel Moby-Dick as a metaphor for and critique of African American slavery in the mid-nineteenth century ... Throughout the entirety of Melville’s novel, the business of whaling is used as an extended metaphor of slavery and the pursuit, capture, and killing of runaway slaves to help readers understand the brutal and unethical nature of the institution of slavery. The chasing of whales through the vast oceans is analogous to the chase of runaway slaves after they had escaped from their masters. The chase was about dehumanizing the hunted group; in this case: the whales or the slaves.


    Throughout the book, blacks are dehumanized. Stubb kills a whale and then proceeds to harass Fleece who is an aged black man [see Stubb's Supper episode]. Stubb also harasses Pip who is a dwarfish black for falling into the water and forcing another crew member to cut off a rope that would have brought in another whale [Castaway episode]:


    https://www.childlitassn.org/assets/...ige%20Gray.pdf

    https://www.cliffsnotes.com/literatu...sis/chapter-93


    He tells Pip that he could have sold the whale in the South and brought in more money than had he sold him for a slave. Terribly harsh words but it shows what little regard he had for blacks.


    There are other forms of slavery such as Ahab's strangle hold on his crew, especially on Starbuck. But perhaps the strongest form of slavery is how we are all beholden to Fate. There are repeated references to Fate and determinism which enslaves us all. In Ch 1 Ish tells us Fate drew him to the ocean and the perilous voyage. He called Fate "the grand programme of Providence". In the Sermon, Father Mapple spoke of Jonah's inability to escape his fate. Quee depended on Yojo the amulet-god to help determine his fate. Elijah the "prophet" predicted Ish, Quee, and the vessel's fate. There many omens and prophecies are given, but the inevitable outcome (doom) simply cannot be avoided because these are preordained and we are all enslaved to this determinism.
    When stupidity is considered patriotism, it is unsafe to be intelligent

    ~ Isaac Asimov

  3. #108
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    Quote Originally Posted by Sancho View Post
    Again, talk about serendipity. I just read the scene where Starbuck contemplates murder/mutiny. And I agree, it has a Shakesphere feel about it — with a maritime twist ...

    There's another Shakespeare parallel that I had forgotten about from The Tempest. In Act II the ship wrecked Trinculo says, "Misery acquaints a man with strange bedfellows". Indeed, Ish who had in utter misery found himself with a cannibal as a bedfellow in Quee. While he is terrified at first (he screams, "Coffin, angels, save me!"), he later learns that ''it is better to sleep with a sober cannibal than a drunken Christian." After all the initial trouble, he had a fine night's sleep. Thereafter he forges a brotherly relationship. At the book's end we see that Ish was saved from the shipwreck when he floated atop of Quee's coffin and was saved by the Rachel's crew members.
    When stupidity is considered patriotism, it is unsafe to be intelligent

    ~ Isaac Asimov

  4. #109
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    Omens

    There are a great many omens in MD each of which foretells doom. The early Extracts which open the book are menacing and give the reader plenty of warning that the events about to unfold are not pleasant. Ish rests at the Spouter Inn and it is managed by Peter Coffin. The Inn is dark and ominous. Within it is a withered old drug dealer who sells poisonous potions named Jonah. The Chapel in New Bedford has a front wall that features a listing of long dead mariners. There is much "death in this business of whaling". The sermon. The "prophet" Elijah. Even the name Pequod bespeaks of a doomed tribe and foretells of what is to come. St Elmos' Fire. There are a great many more omens all throughout the story. Failure to adhere to these warnings seals the unhappy fate of the characters.

    My favorite of these came in the episode The Hat (ch 130). As we saw all throughout the book, Ahab, in a sense, proclaims himself a King (just like his biblical counterpart). A King wears his crown with pomp and great pride. And while he is, in a sense, a king, a law unto himself on the vessel and before his men, to Nature he is nothing more a pretender, a pompous usurper, and non entity. To Nature he is no greater than the lowest peasant or barbarian as all are equally subjected to its unforgiving laws. The vessel is now in an area where Moby Dick had been encountered previously. Ahab spends the entire day on deck vainly searching for signs of the beast. Suddenly, an eagle appears after several sea birds had been circling the vessel. A crew member alerts the captain to take care of his "crown" but is disregarded and the bird swipes Ahab's hat. "Ahab's hat was never restored" as the bird flew away with it, and dumps it onto the sea where it will never be recovered. This was surely a sign of things to come as the Law of Nature dictated that Ahab's mission and attempted usurpation of the ocean's mastery were without any actual basis or justification.

    A lesson to be learned by all.
    When stupidity is considered patriotism, it is unsafe to be intelligent

    ~ Isaac Asimov

  5. #110
    running amok Sancho's Avatar
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    There’s a vividness and beauty to the scene where the bird steals Ahab’s hat:

    “Your hat, your hat, sir!” suddenly cried the Sicilian seaman…

    But already the sable wing was before the old man’s eyes; the long hooked bill at his head: with a scream, the black hawk darted away with his prize…

    Ahab’s hat was never restored; the wild hawk flew on and on with it; far in advance of the prow: and at last disappeared; while from the point of that disappearance, a minute black spot was dimly discerned, falling from that vast height into the sea.
    Also it’s kinda funny
    Uhhhh...

  6. #111
    running amok Sancho's Avatar
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    As for the slavery theory — Uhh, I don't know, man. Might be a stretch. The dots don’t necessarily connect. Slavery was brutal. Whaling was brutal. That doesn’t make Moby Dick an extended metaphor about slavery any more than it makes Uncle Tom’s Cabin an extended metaphor about whaling. Both books were published around the same time, I’ll bet.

    But hey, it’s art. If that’s how Alyce wants to read Moby, more power to her.

    It was a fun exercise to compare whaling to slavery, but what also might be a fun exercise is comparing what Alyce saw to what Sancho saw in the same scene.

    Stubb’s Meal:

    Stubb kills the first whale of the voyage. By the time they get the whale back to Pequod and secured to the ship, it’s pretty late. Stubb wakes up Fleece the cook, an old black man, to prepare him a whale steak. It sounds like a tradition — a victory dinner. The whalers are pretty wound up and blowing off steam. Stubb starts jerking Fleece around, thinking he’s being funny. Fleece doesn’t think it’s funny. It’s an uncomfortable scene to read. At one point Stubb has Fleece “preach” to a bunch of sharks who are in a feeding frenzy around the whale carcass. Fleece’s speech is rendered phonetically in the text.

    Alyce saw a language barrier between the whalers and the whale, and she compared it to the language barrier between the slaves and the slavers:

    The communication barrier between the two allowed for hostility between the groups. Had the whales or the slaves been able to speak the same language as the whalemen or the white man, they may have been on more even playing fields and the group dynamics may have been less like predator and prey.
    Sancho saw a power-distance relationship between Stubb and Fleece that was racist as hell but not necessarily a comment on slavery. What Sancho saw was more like Spider and Tommy in Goodfellas:

    https://youtu.be/IDYKslnO0r0?si=b7s8hzPukSXXmHJr
    Uhhhh...

  7. #112
    running amok Sancho's Avatar
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    Fast Fish Loose Fish

    Alyce comments on this chapter too in her term paper about Moby as an extended metaphor for slavery.

    In a nutshell, on the high seas at times a whale is harpooned but then escapes and he winds up dragging the harpoon and the line along with him until another whaler harpoons him. Sometimes two boats harpoon the same whale at more or less the same time. Ownership disputes over the whale inevitably arise and occasionally the parties wound up in court. So the law became none as “fast fish, loose fish.” If the line was secured to a boat, a fast fish, then the whale belonged to that crew. If the whale had escaped and was just dragging the line along, then he was free game.

    Alyce makes a good comparison of the “fast fish loose fish” law and the runaway slave act. I’m just not sure that’s what Melville was thinking about when he wrote that chapter. In fact right there in the chapter he talks about one of the court cases where the attorney makes pretty awkward argument for the fast fish loose fish principle by comparing the whale to another oppressed group of people of the day:

    Mr. Erskine was counsel for the defendants; Lord Ellenborough was the judge. In the course of the defence, the witty Erskine went on to illustrate his position, by alluding to a recent crim. con. case, wherein a gentleman, after in vain trying to bridle his wife’s viciousness, had at last abandoned her upon the seas of life; but in the course of years, repenting of that step, he instituted an action to recover possession of her. Erskine was on the other side; and he then supported it by saying, that though the gentleman had originally harpooned the lady, and had once had her fast, and only by reason of the great stress of her plunging viciousness, had at last abandoned her; yet abandon her he did, so that she became a loose-fish; and therefore when a subsequent gentleman re-harpooned her, the lady then became that subsequent gentleman’s property, along with whatever harpoon might have been found sticking in her.
    Uhhhh...

  8. #113
    running amok Sancho's Avatar
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    I’m on a roll. Speaking of awkward moments, there’s The Castaway.

    So Pip is the cabin boy. He’s probably 15 or so, a young black man, and is the youngest person on the crew. One of Stubb’s oarsmen gets injured and Pip gets drafted into his position. He’s never been that close to a whale and he is terrified. They get a harpoon into one whale and Pip is so scared that he jumps ship. Stubb reluctantly cuts the line and goes back to pick up him up. This is what he says to Pip:

    “Stick to the boat, Pip, or by the Lord, I won’t pick you up if you jump; mind that. We can’t afford to lose whales by the likes of you; a whale would sell for thirty times what you would, Pip, in Alabama.”
    I’m not sure if that comment or the lawyer’s harpooned lady is more awkward. But I don’t think it acts a metaphor for whaling as slavery. I think it’s Stubb and Pip living in the world they inhabit and Stubb, in the heat of the moment, using that (highly flawed) world to make a huge impression on Pip about the importance of staying in the boat.

    But alas:

    But we are all in the hands of the Gods; and Pip jumped again. It was under very similar circumstances to the first performance; but this time he did not breast out the line; and hence, when the whale started to run, Pip was left behind on the sea, like a hurried traveller’s trunk. Alas! Stubb was but too true to his word.
    If there’s a metaphor here, I think it’s that capitalism is at odds with human virtue.
    Uhhhh...

  9. #114
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    ''We can’t afford to lose whales by the likes of you; a whale would sell for thirty times what you would, Pip, in Alabama.”


    Unrestrained capitalism as practiced in that era certainly is at odds with human virtue as you say. After all, "who ain't a slave?"
    This telling remark in which Pip is demeaned and devalued clearly reveals how dehumanizing slavery is. Alyce Hockers is hardly alone in her beliefs that this was the symbolism intended by Melville. As previously mentioned this was part of Wallace's thesis in his book. In this he was joined by Alice Walker and many others. Numerous essays which seconds that view can be found all over the Internet. As another example, see:


    https://www.jetir.org/papers/JETIR2301054.pdf


    Still not convinced? OK. As with the Bible, everyone is free to interpret the book as they see it.
    When stupidity is considered patriotism, it is unsafe to be intelligent

    ~ Isaac Asimov

  10. #115
    running amok Sancho's Avatar
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    That single sentence, taken alone, without any other context does indeed sound brutal, dehumanizing, and all the other things that went along with the type of slavery being practiced in the American south at the time. But put into the context of the larger story, I think you’ll find Stubb is actually concerned with Pip’s welfare. Pip has already jumped from the boat once and Stubb had to cut a fast line and go back to rescue him. So now Stubb is in the Process of impressing upon Pip, in strongest possible terms, the need to stay in the boat.

    In fact, after they’d fished Pip out of the water the first time, Stubb gave almost avuncular advice to Pip:

    So soon as he recovered himself, the poor little negro was assailed by yells and execrations from the crew. Tranquilly permitting these irregular cursings to evaporate, Stubb then in a plain, business-like, but still half humorous manner, cursed Pip officially; and that done, unofficially gave him much wholesome advice. The substance was, Never jump from a boat, Pip, except — but all the rest was indefinite, as the soundest advice ever is. Now, in general, Stick to the boat, is your true motto in whaling; but cases will sometimes happen when Leap from the boat, is still better.
    Then realizing he really needed to make the advice stick, Stubb goes on:

    Moreover, as if perceiving at last that if he should give undiluted conscientious advice to Pip, he would be leaving him too wide a margin to jump in for the future; Stubb suddenly dropped all advice, and concluded with a peremptory command “Stick to the boat, Pip, or by the Lord, I won’t pick you up if you jump; mind that. We can’t afford to lose whales by the likes of you; a whale would sell for thirty times what you would, Pip, in Alabama. Bear that in mind, and don’t jump any more.” Hereby perhaps Stubb indirectly hinted, that though man loved his fellow, yet man is a money-making animal, which propensity too often interferes with his benevolence.
    So there’s the context. Though related, the gist of the episode seems to be about the evils of money-making rather than the evils of slavery.

    And as I pointed out above, as soon as they harpooned another whale, Pip jumped again. Stubb, true to his word, this time did not cut the line and return for Pip. However:

    But had Stubb really abandoned the poor little negro to his fate? No; he did not mean to, at least. Because there were two boats in his wake, and he supposed, no doubt, that they would of course come up to Pip very quickly, and pick him up;
    Well, that didn’t happen. The other two boats spied a pod of whales and changed directions and poor Pip wound up treading water for hours until the Pequod happened upon him and picked him up. It was a life-changing experience for Pip, and that figures into the rest of the story.
    Uhhhh...

  11. #116
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    In truth, I saw Typee as more fitting for this analysis as it is more of a socialist apologia. This because it seems to project a Marxist Utopian society. I'm not denying that the elements you list are not evident in MB (they certainly are). It's just that I see it as did the commentators I listed. But if that's the way you see it, fine. On the contrary, I always welcome divergent viewpoints.
    When stupidity is considered patriotism, it is unsafe to be intelligent

    ~ Isaac Asimov

  12. #117
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    Omnipresence of DEATH

    From the outset to the ending MB is filled with innumerable images of death. There are many words or symbols that bespeak of death all throughout the book. The story begins begins in early winter in November where Ish pauses before,


    coffins
    (at) rear of funeral processions
    Cato throwing himself upon a sword
    pistol and ball
    mortal men


    ... and this is just page one! Scenes are described with these images:


    ungraspable phantom of life
    horror
    hooded phantom
    very dark and dismal
    dreary street
    gloom
    darkness
    tomb
    blackness of darkness
    dilapidated
    burnt district
    portentous
    black mass
    dark looking den
    withered old man


    ... the next 400 pages or so contain a vast array of more such ominous images and wording. Then you finally reach the end where there's a happy ending for our hero Ish because he was buoyed by a coffin and because fate seemed to shut the mouths of the sharks.

    Thus, DEATH is everywhere throughout the book though Fate spares Ish because of the brotherhood he forged with Quee. Death everywhere but Ish affirms life and that appears to be what he suggests for all.
    When stupidity is considered patriotism, it is unsafe to be intelligent

    ~ Isaac Asimov

  13. #118
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    Moby Dick Threads

    Up to now, it escaped my attention that we had numerous MD threads here on OL.C

    One thing that almost all of these threads had in common is that they FAILED. Failed big time. Questions were asked about character motivations and most of those queries went unanswered. A thread starter would write "I need help regarding..." but, again, there would few or no replies. A common and recurring theme to the few replies was that the writer would attempt to interpret the book, character motivations, and themes using modern day sensibilities. This did not make a whole lot of sense to the OP's. As a consequence, most of those threads had zero replies or only a small handful. Then, they were closed without further activity.

    By contrast, note how much activity has occurred in this thread. We have now had 8 pages of replies, original interpretive ideas, and divergent views on subjects, characters, and motivations. I believe we will have more such postings.

    When I read a classical book such as those of Melville, Shakespeare, Twain, London, Dickens, or whomever, I do my best to get into the book as if the story was a real life part of my life - like I was a character within it. This is sort of like the Stanislavski school of acting where you not only portray a character, you actually live that character. Thus, if you are portraying Father Mapple, you must shout your sermon with the greatest passion possible - your eyes must become ablaze with passion, the sweat must pour from your head, and you must express great emotion when you speak. As a reader I was influenced by Professor Rene Wellek:


    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ren%C3%A9_Wellek


    Professor Wellek and his scholarly disciples would dissect a book, chapter by chapter, page by page, paragraph by paragraph, even word by word. They would go back in time to learn a writer social milieu and read the book as if they were living in the past. They would not interpret the book as if they were moderns. Oh no, too much of the book's meaning would be lost if they did so. Evidently, the posters and OP's of those failed threads did so. They failed because they tried to impose their modern day sensibilities to this great book. By contrast, from the very beginning you saw how I recommended reading the Wallace book so that you would get inside the mind of Melville and his milieu. By doing so, now you would know what the book is really all about. Once you absorb all those meanings the book becomes of greater value to you.

    People have asked, why should I read this books? What is so good about it?

    Read Wallace and similar books. You will have all the answers thereby making this book far more enjoyable and reachable. This, I sincerely believe, is why this particular thread has succeeded while the others failed.
    When stupidity is considered patriotism, it is unsafe to be intelligent

    ~ Isaac Asimov

  14. #119
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    The World of MD ~ A Virtually Female Free zone

    Except for a few church attendants, Mrs Hussey the cook, Aunt Charity, and references to the mythic Andromeda and a school of fish, there are no females in the world of MD. I wonder why (???).

    True this is a tale of whaling but, heck, even Captain Bligh for all his evils was well noted for venturing his men to places where they could go "wenching".

    All the good people, the bad, the gods, the Christian Saints, God, the Devil, and everything else is male.

    Why???
    When stupidity is considered patriotism, it is unsafe to be intelligent

    ~ Isaac Asimov

  15. #120
    running amok Sancho's Avatar
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    So I’m on my second book after finishing Moby, but I’m still thinking about Moby, and I reckon that’s one sign of a good book — still trying to peel that onion.

    Death certainly is omnipresent, especially in a book where everybody dies except Ish and the fish. Here’s an early look at death on the Pequod.

    One of the more enigmatic chapters is The Lee Shore. It’s only a “six-inch” chapter, but it seems to be about death, specifically the death of six-foot sailor, Bulkington.

    Mary Anne Meechum : Hey Dad, why do you love me more than your other children?
    Bull Meechum : Beat it, I'm reading the sports page.
    Mary Anne Meechum : Let's have a conversation Dad. Let's bare our souls and get to know one another.
    Bull Meechum : I don't want you to get to know me. I like being an enigma, like a Chink. Now scram.
    — from The Great Santini

    Bulkington is an enigma. We meet him early on in the book when a freshly landed crew stumbles into the Spouter Inn and starts whooping it up. Bulkington is more reserved than the others and steals away as soon as he can, perhaps so as not to be a wet blanket. But he is clearly beloved by his shipmates and as soon as they realize he’s gone, they start calling his name and stagger off after him.

    The next time we see him he’s at the helm of the Pequod, and then Ismael launches into a philosophical discussion about the freedom of the sea, the comforts of the land, and the danger where two meet — the lee shore.

    I initially pictured the lee shore as the downwind side of an island. The windward side of an island faces the prevailing winds. So big waves crash on the windward side and storms batter the the windward side. The leeward side is sheltered from the wind and the weather. Think of Hilo (windward) and Kona (leeward) on the big island of Hawaii. While Hilo’s getting hammered, tourists are golfing in Kona. For an aviator, like the great Santini, the lee side of a hill is were all the bad stuff happens. If he were to do a low-level ridge crossing in his F-8 he’d do it from the windward side. The wind gently pushes up and over the ridge and then it slams down on the lee side of the ridge. Trying to cross a ridge from the lee side (into the wind) he’d run the risk of getting mashed into the ground and tying the low-altitude record, as they say. So this was all very confusing to me because Ishmael kept describing the waves crashing into the lee shore and the wind pushing the ship onto the rocks on the lee shore. AH-HAH! The lee shore, to a sailor, is the shore on the lee side of the ship, hence it’s the windward shore. Well, that was harder than it needed to be.

    Anyway here’s Bulkington steering the ship close to the lee shore. Ismael says:

    …deep memories yield no epitaphs; this six-inch chapter is the stoneless grave of Bulkington.
    And we see no more of Bulkington. The end of the page-long chapter goes like this:

    Take heart, take heart, O Bulkington! Bear thee grimly, demigod! Up from the spray of thy ocean-perishing — straight up, leaps thy apotheosis!
    But of course the Pequod never ran ashore. As best I can figure, Bulkington is an idealized version of Ismael and the Lee Shore kills off that part of Ishmael. Both are somewhat aloof. Both need to go to sea. Ishmael has to get out of Manhattan and Bulkington has to sail away again only three days after he returns from a long voyage. And with Bulkington out of the picture, Ahab can officially get on with his quest.
    Uhhhh...

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