Who’s telling this story anyway?

22 Apr

Call me Ishmael” is how it all starts.  Alright, Ishmael, I’ll listen to your story.  It is your story, isn’t it?  Your story, Ahab’s story, Melville’s story…

Anyway.  The first thirty-five chapters are in Ishmael’s voice.  We learn what is happening through Ish’s point of view.  “Great!” I think.  When it comes time to answer “The Questions,”  I’ll know how to respond to the point-of-view one.  But something changes in chapter 36.  Did you notice the play-like scene instructions?

Chapter 36
The Quarter-Deck

Enter Ahab: Then, all.

Did someone swap my copy of the novel for a playbook?  Is there going to be a list of needed props coming up?  I’m not sure where to get a harpoon.

Chapter 37

The cabin; by the stern windows;
Ahab sitting alone, and gazing out.

More scene setting.
And then the story continues with Ahab.  His thoughts.  A monologue?  An internal monologue?  What’s going on here?  Where’s Ishmael?

Chapters 38 and 39 are more of the same.  Ishmael is no longer the narrator, instead the reader gets a peek into the minds of Starbuck and Stubbs.

Chapter 40?  Chapter 40 is a mini-play.  Didn’t Melville know I’m not slated to read dramas until 2018 at the earliest?   Is this where Melville does a little Shakespeare imitation?  I caught that “signifying nothing” misquote in chapter 32.  Maybe we should put these chapters on as a dramatic performance.  I’ll be the 5th Nantucket Sailor.  He only has one line.

The moral of my story is that the Point of View in Moby-Dick changes.


Posted by on April 22, 2012 in Moby-Dick


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6 responses to “Who’s telling this story anyway?

  1. Adriana @ Classical Quest

    April 22, 2012 at 11:39 am

    I’m glad you brought this up, Christine.

    Dare I say it? It seems a bit amateur to shift point of view so flippantly the way he did. I first noticed it in chapter 29, just after Ahab’s first words. (Remember the discourse which ended with Ahab saying to Stubb: “Down, dog, and kennel!”) Stubb retreats muttering as he descends the cabin scuttle. He rambles for a full page and it reads like he’s thinking. I wrote “Ishmael reads thoughts?” in the margin.

    Perhaps this was one of the “advanced techniques” Melville used which have caused some to refer to MD as the first “modern novel”. I don’t know.

    Does anyone have a better explanation?

  2. Norma Carey

    April 22, 2012 at 12:17 pm

    Perhaps Ishmael is the prologue?

    • Christine

      April 22, 2012 at 12:43 pm

      That’s an interesting idea. He must be the epilogue too then. Ish bookends the story doesn’t he. Hmmm

  3. Jerry

    April 24, 2012 at 5:24 pm

    Mellville really is taking on the Shakespearean Drama. In reality this story is being told by many, just as it would be in a script. However, Christina and I both thought that early on that many of the chapters, specifically in the detailed whaling chapters that it is really Melville’s voice and not Ishmael, despite Melville’s insistance that it is Ishmael. I think Norma is right on.

    • Christine

      April 24, 2012 at 6:43 pm

      I keep thinking that the whaling chapters were written first and Ahab was added later, so I wonder how much of those descriptive, every-part-of-the-whale chapters did Melville change. My guess is not much. I agree that Melville’s the one doing the talking… and talking… and talking.

    • Christina Joy

      April 25, 2012 at 11:23 am

      Also, I like what you said last night Jer, that if Ishmael is prologue and epilogue to the drama that unfold on the stage of the Pequod he is fulfilling the same role as the choruses in Shakespeare’s dramas.


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