Written by Elizabeth Suggs
Moby Dick! The great behemoth of stories. If you’ve read this one, then you’re probably at the cool classic’s book club table. This book came to me from my father, and for a long time I was reluctant to read it for one excuse or another: it’s too long, there are whales in it, etc. etc. But when I finally got around to consuming those wonderful pages, I was enthralled--enchanted.
What really struck me with this particular classical book is how beautiful Herman Melville writes-
Human madness is oftentimes a cunning and most feline thing. When you think it fled, it may have but become transfigured into some still subtler form. Ahab’s full lunacy subsided not, but deepeningly contracted; like the unabated Hudson, when that noble Northman flows narrowly, but unfathomably through the Highland gorge. But, as in his narrow-flowing monomania, not one jot of Ahab’s broad madness had been left behind; so in that broad madness, not one jot of his great natural intellect had perished. That before living agent, now became the living instrument. If such a furious trope may stand, his special lunacy stormed his general sanity, and carried it, and turned all its concentred cannon upon its own mad mark; so that far from having lost his strength, Ahab, to that one end, did now possess a thousand fold more potency than ever he had sanely brought to bear upon any one reasonable object. (Melville, page 196).
Or something more silly-
“At length, by dint of much wriggling, and loud and incessant expostulations upon the unbecomingness of his hugging a fellow male in that matrimonial sort of style, I succeeded in extracting a grunt; and presently, he drew back his arm, shook himself all over like a Newfoundland dog just from the water, and sat up in bed, stiff as a pike-staff, looking at me, and rubbing his eyes as if he did not altogether remember how I came to be there, though a dim consciousness of knowing something about me seemed slowly dawning over him. Meanwhile, I lay quietly eyeing him, having no serious misgivings now, and bent upon narrowly observing so curious a creature.” (Melville, page 30).
Another point I love is how identifiable the characters are, and how their problems, their thoughts are more sincere and “real” than some of the stories we read now. In today’s world, it seems that there are very specific types of characters, with particular ways of thinking, and if you diverge from that you diverge from an entire audience.
Which is one of the reasons I love classic books--they’re unique, yet just one of the many folds in our literary journey as humans.
And one of those beautiful journeys is Ishmael in Moby Dick. Ishmael is a wonderful, slightly comedic character, whose first scene in the story is him trying to get a bed at a Harpoon INN, and winds up renting just part of a bed, the other half went to a tattooed man who’d been selling heads during the night. His name? Queequeg. He’s hilarious and one of my favorite characters. For instance, at one point, he sits on a sleeping man because he needs a chair. Another time, he rises from the dead because he decides he’s not going to die--not yet.
But what I love the most about the book? That this whole time, we’re on a journey with the mad Captain Ahab, a crazed, legless man, who’s dead-set on finding the “white whale” or “Moby Dick” at the expense of his crew because Moby Dick got away from him the first time, and took his leg in the process. This white whale, I believe, is the symbol of all whales and why whaling should be ended. The reason I think this is how Melville paints a picture of this beautiful beast. This white whale, not only remembers his attackers but can attack back. We move away from being whale-oil lovers to realizing that maybe--just maybe--whales are worth more than just their blubber.
Moby Dick starts with Ishmael, but it’s so much more than just his character. There is Pip, Ahab, Starbuck, and so many others who endear us into this story.
Surprisingly, this book didn’t become popular until after Herman Melville’s death. However, since then has stood the test of time, and continues to be a striking story with an appropriate ending. Despite the constant hunts, the captain doesn’t get his revenge. In fact, it’s the white whale who gets his revenge.
“At that instant, a red arm and a hammer hovered yet faster to the subsiding spar. A sky-hawk that tauntingly had followed the main-truck downwards from its natural home among the stars, pecking at the flag, and incommoding Tashtego there; this bird now chanced to simultaneously feeling that ethereal thrill, the submerged savage beneath, in his death-grasp, kept his hammer frozen there; and so the bird of heaven, with archangelic shrieks, and his imperial beak thrust upwards, and his whole captive form folded in the flag of Ahab, went down with his ship, which, like Satan, would not sink to hell till she had dragged a living part of heaven with her, and helmeted herself with it.” (Melville, p. 613-614).