Fin Whale Skeleton at the
Grand Rapids Public Museum
Welcome to the second day of the wrap-up. Have you patched up your whaling boat, and taken in a bit of rum to help you through this middle leg?
You might want it, for although our discussion remained focused on Moby-Dick we did channel our inner monomaniacs. You see, we don’t think Ahab was the only one with that special character attribute.
Personally, we think our narrator might want to slap on a name tag, grab a cup of strong coffee, and give an introduction that sounds something like this, “Hi, call me Ishmael, I’m a monomaniac.” He doesn’t portray himself as a single-minded crazy during the Pequod’s voyage, and we’re not asserting that he was, then.
You see, we think his monomaniacism (you like that word?) started as he was bobbing away on Queequeg’s coffin, and the expanse of the watery horizon enveloped him in complete abandonment. Not unlike Pip, who suffered a deep character shift as the result of being left out-to-sea, Ishmael is alone. And although, when rescued by the Rachel he was no longer alone, he was still the lone. The only survivor. The One left to the tale.
The story of Ahab and Moby-Dick obviously weighed on his soul. What other reason would a man have for researching all things whale related to an encyclopedic extent? What kind of emotionally healthy human being would tattoo the measurements of a whale skeleton on his arm? What normal person would describe things so that all the world is a whale, and all the whale is a world? What sane wight would spend 135 chapters in first person narrative about someone, and something else, and then at the end throw in a quick epilogueial “Oh yeah, I was on the whale boat, and this is how I survived?” Who else would lock himself in his study and write the day away while ignoring his family, and relentlessly bothering his reluctant author friend?
Wait, that was Melville. Funny how that works, isn’t it? Ishmael was hardly even a character. Ishmael was not even his name. His name was Herman Melville. And the man was a monomaniac. Moby-Dick swallowed him whole, and unlike Jonah, he stayed more than three days in the belly of that whale.
Moby-Dick might technically be classified as first person, but at times someone should have hollered “First person overboard!” We prefer to call the Melville’s special point of view Omniscient First Person.
It was about the time we finished talking about how off-balanced Mellville was, that we started to get just a wee bit punchy ourselves. We may or may not have broken into a small game of “What if Pixar did a movie called Finding Moby-Dick?” Go ahead, take a second to play for yourself. Don’t forget to imagine the multiple scenes where Ahab asks “Have you seen the White Whale?” and Dory answers, “I saw a white whale once! P. Sherman, 42 Wallaby Way . . .” and give Mr. Ray a cameo shot as the Squid of chapter 59, and let Bruce and his buddies really get the most out of Cook’s sermon. Speaking in whale is optional, but I will say this, the other Starbuck’s patrons didn’t seem to mind it too much.
Alright, now that you’re certain we ingested an entire calabash of rum punchiness I’ll leave you to ponder one last question before we furl the sails and try to get a little rest before tomorrow’s big day of whaling:
How would the presence of women have changed the story? Suspend all reality that women didn’t come aboard whaling ships, and whaling isn’t exactly a commuter friendly job. Instead, just imagine for a bit what it would have been like if these men would have gone home to their wives every evening? Would the plot be different?
So, while you sleep on that, mentally prepare yourself for the most tempestuous day at sea yet.