About ten months ago Jeannette, Christine, and I were sitting in Panera having our first ever official book outing. We were at the midway point of Don Quixote, and more than a little perplexed about what exactly we were supposed to be learning from reading the adventures of this crazed knight errant.
Then an “Aha!” moment struck. Maybe it wasn’t just about DQ. In fact, maybe we just needed to lay DQ as our foundation, and then later we would be able to come back to him and say, in our best snooty, overly-educated tones, “Ah, yes. Well, if you compare this author’s approach to that of Cervantes you will plainly see that . . .”It seemed like a long shot, but at the time it was all we had, because as mothers we’d already dealt with our share of potty language, imaginary giants, and cardboard costumes. We were looking for something more.
Well folks, it’s been happening, have you noticed? Our authors are talking about each other, referring to other classics, building upon the past, and none more than Melville. Here’s the end of Chapter 26:
Bear me out in it, thou great democratic God! who didst not refuse to the swart convict, Bunyan, the pale, poetic pearl; Thou who didst clothe with doubly hammered leaves of finest gold, the stumped and paupered arm of old Cervantes; Thou who didst pick up Andrew Jackson from the pebbles; . . .
Okay, I’ll stop there, because I don’t know anything about Andrew Jackson. But, Bunyan and Cervantes? Those are our guys!
It seems that Melville has switched in this chapter from first person narrative by Ishmael, to an omnipotent author who gives us not only backgrounds on multiple characters, but also his own philosophical statements.
Here we get a little peak into Melville’s life as a writer. This plea to a “democratic God” is for himself, that he may be given the ability to produce a culture shifting story, the likes of Don Quixote or Pilgrim’s Progress. Melville, a mere 30-something American is hoping to create characters that begin as the every-man and end as the men every man remembers.
Then again, maybe this is Ishmael’s voice begging the “Spirit of Equality” to make him, and the motley crew of the Pequod heroes in their own right – to elevate the common with a chivalrous pilgrimage toward the destruction of evil.
I don’t know, it seems my own snooty voice is rather indecisive about this whole mess. Please weigh in with your own.