Tag Archives: themes

Maybe a motif?

As I started Part II of Crime and Punishment, I scribbled these words in my journal:

Possible motifs in C & P:
time (clocks, church bells)

Anyone else notice these themes being repeated?
I’ll try to keep them in mind as I continue reading and see what happens with my theories.

Have you noticed themes, motifs, and/or symbols as you read?


Posted by on August 21, 2012 in Crime and Punishment


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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 – 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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Classic Themes Revisited

Last September I had a revelation about classic literature themes.  At that point our group had read the first three novels of the WEM list.  I noticed that these books had three themes in common.  I’ve copied part of that post here and added what I’ve found in my reading of Moby-Dick to these notes.  I’m thinking I have thesis material for my DIY degree.

1.  Travel
*In the book Don Quixote, the main character had sallies throughout the countryside.
*In Pilgrim’s Progress Christian and Christiana had journeys to the Celestial City.
*In Gulliver’s Travels–well, it’s in the title.  Traveling is part of the story.  Actually four parts of the story.
*In Moby-Dick Ishmael signs up for a three-year stint on a whaling ship.

2. Giants
*Don Quixote thought he saw giants where windmills were.
*Christian had a terrible encounter with the Giant Despair.  There was also the Giant Maul.
*The people of Lilliput call Lemuel Gulliver a “man-mountain”.  To their six-inch frames, Gulliver is a giant.
In the second part of Gulliver’s Travels, the roles are reversed.  Gulliver is tiny compared to the people of Brobdingnag.
*In chapter 34 of Moby-Dick, the harpoonist named Daggoo is described as having “colossal limbs, making the low cabin framework to shake, as when an African elephant goes passenger in a ship.”  Later the book says, “Not by beef or by bread, are giants made or nourished.”

3. Bodily Functions:  I’ll try to be discreet and follow the lead of my fellow blogger.
*DQ had balsam; and a separate instance with Sancho on his donkey that I wish I could forget.
*In PP, Matthew takes a medicine to help him with his guilt gripe.
*In GT, I read about two instances of No 1 and one instance of No 2.
*My very first footnote in chapter one of Moby-Dick explains this phrase “if you never violate the Pthagorean maxim.”  Here’s the footnote: Pythagoras advised his disciples “to abstain from beans because they are flatulent and partake most of the breath of life.”

All of the novels we’ve read have included some sort of travel.  Elizabeth travels with her aunt and uncle.  Oliver runs away to London.  Jane goes to boarding school, takes a carriage to Thornfield Hall, and travels on foot across the moor.  Hester and Pearl take a boat across the ocean in the epilogue.

Sadly, or not so sadly, none of the other novels involve giants or bodily functions.

I’m imagining what it will be like to do an oral defense of my “thesis”.  Don’t you think the scholars will be impressed?


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