Don’t get down, I promise that we’ll discuss Moby Dick as the embodiment of Good today, but first we need to address a few of the Susan Wise Bauer’s questions, how about we begin with the one about beginnings? And ending, too, of course.
We start with a lonely, depressed Ishmael seeking out the water, and after exhausting the possible plot, we are left with solitary, monomaniacal Ishmael surrounded by nothing but water. As one of my dear friends* quipped the night of our Starbuck’s wrap-up session, “You said you wanted water, Ishmael, well, you’ve got water now!”
As we discussed yesterday, Ishmael is left with nothing else to do, but to spin this tale for all to hear. And so on the loom of this fiber theme, he begins with the thread of his own story, adds Queequeg, twists them together with the other sailors on the Pequod, and then weaves in the final two, inseparably tangled lines – those of Ahab and Moby Dick. It is this flawed dual cord that causes the unraveling of all those on board. And it is the actual hemp rope itself that wraps around the captain’s neck and brings him to his watery grave.
But isn’t this what he deserved? As much as we would have loved to see Starbuck, Pip, Queequeg, and even goofy ol’ Stubb survive, rooting for Ahab was not in the picture. He was evil, and evil must be overcome by good.
It was my dear husband who first threw the “Moby Dick is God” theory at me, and I won’t lie, I didn’t buy it at first, but I listened intently. Then in our discussion of SWB’s final two rhetoric questions, “What is Melville’s argument? And, is it true?” I began to see what lay beneath the suface.
There is more to this theory than the White Whale simply being the antithesis of Captain Ahab. Time and time again Melville reminds us that the created world under the sea rolls on “as it rolled five thousand years ago.” And to mirror that closing sentence, the opening quote from the Extracts is a somewhat altered line from Genesis, “And God created great whales.” For Melville, whales are divine creatures, he doesn’t tell us the same about mankind.
Moby Dick is a protector of his world, who defends it when provoked. It’s quite an understatement to say that whales are bigger than humans, but in the novel we see that even in man’s attempt to paint ships black and adorn them with the teeth of their prey, they are still nothing but toothpick masts to the supreme creatures who swam untouched by the Flood. And despite Ishmael’s pursuit to understand the great leviathan in terms of science, history, art, and literature, Moby Dick remains a unknown power to be feared.
And the wise do fear him, Starbuck tells us at the beginning of the voyage, “I’ll have no man on my ship that doesn’t have a healthy fear of whales.” (or something like that, I couldn’t find the quote, so feel free to help me out.) Pip seemingly prays to him at the end of Chapter 40, “Oh, thou big white God aloft there somewhere in yon darkness, have mercy on this small black boy down here; preserve him from all men that have no bowels to feel fear!”
The lore of Moby Dick speaks of his omnipresence. The one-that-got-away stories in Chapter 41 tell of him being multiple places on the globe at the same time, and “some whaleman should go still further in their superstitions; declaring Moby Dick not only ubiquitous, but immortal . . .”
And finally, we have the great paradoxes of the novel where life enfolds death, and death cages life. A coffin becomes a life preserver, dead whales provide gifts of sweet smelling ambergis and light-giving oil, Tashtego’s life is trapped in a dead head, and the death ship named after an extinct tribe traps the life of its innocent. Above all, he who says he is going to destroy evil is truly evil, and that which he seeks to destroy is truly good.
And so, with those paradoxes in place we give a hearty “Aye!” to the question of Truth. For death has been swallowed up by death.
*Please note that although I have not specifically credited the ideas of my intelligent and witty friends Jeannette and Christine in this wrap-up write-up, that anything worthy of a “Wow” or a “Hahaha” surely first belonged to them in thought and word, and was only here by me recorded.