Tag Archives: Moby-Dick

Moby-Dick Marathon

Remember when I went on vacation here?Charles W Morgan

And got to do this?

Christine harpoon

The only thing that could have made that trip better was if I’d been at Mystic Seaport for the
annual Moby-Dick Marathon.  Can you imagine reading Melville’s masterpiece aboard a real whaling vessel?

It’s too back we can’t take a CCOM field trip to Connecticut.  Instead I’ll be checking in on July 31st-August 1st, watching live streaming video of the event with my book in hand.Moby-Dick Title Page


Posted by on July 27, 2013 in Moby-Dick


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Added to my Wishlist

I spent some time on Etsy this weekend doing a little window shopping.  On a whim I typed in Huckleberry Finn.  The very first listing charmed me.  Go ahead; take a look.

Yes, it’s a little book charm with our latest title and author’s name engraved on it.  I love it!  After admiring it for a few moments, can you guess what I did?  That’s right.  I searched the shop for other WEM titles.  I found six:  Huck Finn, Great Gatsby, Pride & Prejudice, Jane Eyre, Moby-Dick, and (yes, I was surprised as well) Portrait of a Lady.

I think a bracelet made up of WEM novel charms would be the perfect reward for completing the novel portion of my DIY master’s degree program.  It’s on my wishlist.


Posted by on March 6, 2013 in The Blog


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Vocab Flashback

The Return of the Native chapter 1

“The untameable, Ishmaelitish thing that Egdon now was it always had been.” 

Like Ishmael?
As in “Call me Ishmael” from Moby-Dick?

Way back when, we found the word quixotic in Oliver Twist and learned that Dickens was a fan of Cervantes.

I wonder if Hardy was a fan of Melville.

or maybe Hardy was a fan of the Bible.  Do you know who Ishmael was?  He was the son of Abraham and Hagar.  Nope, not Abraham and Sarah.  Abraham and Hagar.  She was Sarah’s Egyptian servant.  (Genesis 16).  Later Hagar and Ishmael were sent away from Abraham’s family to wander in the wilderness. (Genesis 21).

Today the word Ishmaelite can mean a descendent of Ishmael or it can mean someone who is a wanderer or cast out.

I get Melville’s name choice for his character, but how can Hardy call a place Ishmaelitish?
Is Egdon Heath a rejected place?  Does it refer to the untamed wilderness?  Is it a cast off?

Ishmaelitish.  Try to work that one into daily conversation.


Posted by on December 1, 2012 in Moby-Dick, The Return of the Native


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monomaniacal chickens

Crime and Punishment Part I, chapter 6

Raskolnikov is reminiscing about how the previous winter a fellow student told him of the pawn broker Alyona Ivanovna.  Rask is repulsed by the woman from the first time he sees her.

Then…a chacter from my literary past jumped out and startled me.  It was Ahab!

The Crime & Punishment text says, “A strange idea was pecking at his brain like a chicken in the egg, and very, very much absorbed him.”

I was instantly reminded of a line from Moby-Dick.  Thankfully, the kindle was willing to help me in my search.

Moby-Dick Chapter 38 “The Quarter-Deck”
D’ye mark him, Flask?” whispered Stubb; “the chick that’s in him pecks the shell. ‘Twill soon be out.”

The mates are talking about Captain Ahab of course.

Perhaps Rodion Romanovich Raskolnikov should have had the middle name Ahab.


Posted by on August 7, 2012 in Crime and Punishment, Moby-Dick


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Moby-Dick in Uncle Tom’s Cabin?

Never in my wildest dreams did I imagine I would read about whaling in Uncle Tom’s Cabin.  DId you catch the reference in chapter XXXVI?

Poor Tom has been beaten and tossed in the waste-room of the gin-house.  Simon Legree goes to see if Tom has been “broken-in” and is ready to obey his master’s every order.

     “Well, my boy,” said Legree, with a contemptuous kick, “how do you find yourself?  Didn’t I tell yer I could larn yer a thing or tow?  How do yer like it–eh?  How did yer whaling agree with yer, Tom?  An’t quite so crank as ye was last night.  Ye couldn’t treat a poor sinner, now, to a bit of sermon, could ye, –eh?”

How did yer whaling agree with yer, Tom?
Tom is the whale?

What a terrible image!

PS–Did you make a note that Legree spent time on a ship in his youth?  The plantation owner has some monomaniacal tendencies, like Ahab, don’t you think?


Posted by on June 5, 2012 in Moby-Dick, Uncle Tom's Cabin


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The Wrap-up – Third Day

Were you a little reluctant to come aboard the final day of the wrap-up?  Who can blame you, it’s Day Three, and there is a general sense of foreboding in the air.

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.


Posted by on May 6, 2012 in Moby-Dick


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The Wrap-up – Second Day

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.


Posted by on May 5, 2012 in Moby-Dick


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The Wrap-up – First Day

At my husband’s suggestion I took a mind-clearing run, showered with my favorite Whale Roadkill body wash, and our little blogging trio set sail to Starbuck‘s for our end-of-book-answer-all-the-questions-celebrate-the-finish gathering.

We settled our stacks into a cozy corner, scoped out the beverage options, and quizzed the barista on the origin of his employer’s name.  “Uh, yeah, that was in our training, um . . . ah . . . it’s from that book, right?” Our encouraging nods gave him just the confidence he needed to sheepishly mumble, “Moby-Dick?”  We erupted in cheers for the unsuspecting coffee server, grabbed our liquid indulgence, and took our places for an evening of intense discussion.

And intense it was, friends.  We packed so much into that hour and a moiety discussion that this wrap-up will take not one post, but three, yes, three posts to give you all the goods on Moby-Dick.  And, we’re fairly certain that we’ve just dipped our grande-sized cups into the great sea of MD discussion.

We did not settled on the number three merely for the sake of convenience.  No, no, no, You see, three is the key.  Check it out:

3 words in the first sentence,  “Call me Ishmael.”
3 inns in New Bedford
3 memorials in the Whaleman’s Chapel
3 whaling ships from which to choose
3 year voyage on the Pequod
3 captains – Bildad, Peleg, and Ahab
3 masts
3 mates
3 harpooneers
3 parts to the novel- on shore, whaling dictionary, pursuit of Moby Dick
3 BOOKS of whales in Chapter 32 Cetology
3 chapters on the depiction of whales in art
3 years that Ahab spent on land during his 40 year whaling career
3 counselors for Ahab – Fedallah, Pip, and Starbuck
3 times leg losses – to MD the first time, when it ‘undermines’ him, and on the second day of the chase
3 days they chase the White Whale

all pointing to:

Ahab – the Diabolical Trinity

As he studies the doubloon in Chapter 99 he makes sure we can see it, too,

There’s something ever egotistical in mountain-tops and towers, and all other grand and lofty things; look here, – three peaks as proud as Lucifer.  The firm tower, that is Ahab; the volcano, that is Ahab, the courageous, the undaunted, and victorious fowl, that, too, is Ahab; all are Ahab; and this round gold is but the image of the rounder globe, which like a magician’s glass, to each and every man in turn but mirrors back his own mysterious self.

Ahab is quite different than our other questing madman friend, Don Quixote.  The captain isn’t errant, he’s evil.  And where there is pure evil, there must be pure good.  You know who the Good is, right?  Not Ishmael, not Pip, not even Starbuck.

Moby Dick

Yup.  Don’t worry, we’re not done exploring that angle, but for today, please return to the ship with whatever is left of your whale boat, think about what you have learned today, and help us identify more triple occurances.  Surely you can give us one or two, or maybe . . .


Posted by on May 4, 2012 in Moby-Dick


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Poor Pip. Poor Ishmael.

Chapter 93 The Castaway

Sperm Whaling. The Conflict
1858 Artist on stone: J. Cole.

Pip, the Pequod’s Cabin Boy, is not cut out to be in the whaling boats.  He is afraid of the whales.  At that close proximity, I would be too!  Did you watch Into the Deep?  Have you looked at the lithographs?  Did you read Melville’s descriptions of how large these creatures are?

If you’ve finished reading The Whale, you know that in a moment of terror Pip jumps from Stubb’s whaling boat and ends up being left behind in the ocean.  Eventually the Pequod rescues him, but poor Pip is never the same.  Melville writes,

The sea had jeeringly kept his finite body up, but drowned the infinite of his soul.

So at the very end of chapter 93 when Ishmael tells us…

For the rest, blame not Stubb too hardly, The thing is common in that fishery; and in the sequel of the narrative, it will then be seen what like abandonment befell myself.

I don’t think I need to give a spoiler alert about the end of the book regarding Ishmael.  What I wonder is did Ishmael’s time as a castaway drown the “infinite of his soul“.  In what ways was Ishmael forever changed from his experience of being in the ocean like Pip when his own “ringed horizon began to expand around him miserably”?

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Posted by on May 3, 2012 in Moby-Dick


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Flashbacks of Revenge

Sometimes I am reading our current novel and have a flashback to a previous book.  Like when I read this quote from chapter 44 of Moby-Dick:

What trances of torments does that man endure who is consumed with one unachieved revengeful desire.  He sleeps with clenched hands; and wakes with his own bloody nails in his palms.

Obviously, Ahab is the character described in the quote, but in the margin of my copy I wrote, “sounds like Roger Chillingworth.”

I love it when a character comes back to visit, even a creepy one like Hester’s husband.

Sperm Whaling. The Chase

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Posted by on May 2, 2012 in Moby-Dick, The Scarlet Letter


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