Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Book 113: To the Sea and the White Whale.

I am about a third of the way through Melville's Moby-Dick. I am reading it slowly, and I actually prefer it that way. I think, that by taking my time, I am allowing myself to fully enjoy the power of Melville's prose. It seems as if he agonized over each sentence, each word, to get it just right.

Or it could just be that with school and other obligations, I haven't been reading all that much. :)

But I do love this book. It is kind of an odd book. Each chapter is fully constructed to give the reader just a piece of the whole story. Melville dedicates a whole chapter to describing a table. And I don't think he does it to be pretentious or to drag the story out, but because it has a meaningful purpose and place within his story.

Yes, the story moves slowly (I thought we would never get to sea), but I know why. Melville is taking his time, building up who the characters are, giving them names and histories. He needs to develop the ship and its qualities, the sea and the way it makes the ship move. And while a chapter on the table seems silly, I know it isn't. Nothing about Moby-Dick on a deep level is silly. It all has purpose somewhere, even if I can't see it yet.

I also don't mean to say that this is a deep and brooding book. While I do think it has passages that require me to think a little deeper, it does have moments of light-heartedness. There was a scene near the beginning when Ishmael (our narrator) spends a night with a stranger and freaks out. It made me laugh. But I also enjoyed the innate human quality of it-the real emotion and voice that Ishmael lends to the story.

From the beginning, we know that Ishmael is the one taking us on this voyage. And while he is important to the story, I know he isn't everything. Sometimes I forget he is there, and that he is the one conveying all this to me as the reader. Then he will butt in and say something like,

"I, Ishmael, was one of that crew; my shouts had gone up with the rest; my oath had been welded with theirs; and stronger I shouted, and more did I hammer and clinch my oath, because of the dread in my soul," (194).

I love that he pulls me back and reminds me that yes, there is a man there, watching this for me and painting the picture. His voice and tone are perfect. He gives us hope and desperation as we hunt the white whale with the crew. But his observations of Ahab are what really stick out to me,

"The White Whale swam before him as the monomaniac incarnation of all those malicious agencies which some deep men feel eating in them, till they are left living on with half a heart and half a lung. That intangible malignity which has been from the beginning; to whose dominion even the modern Christians ascribe one-half of the worlds; which the ancient Ophites of the east reverenced in their statue devil; --Ahab did not fall down and worship it like them; but deliriously transferring its idea to the abhorred white whale, he pitted himself, all mutilated, against it," (200).

I love that. I love that kind of passion that I get with every turn of the page. Each page is similar, with the driving force of something pushing me constantly forward into the book. I can feel it ebbing me onward, forward, and forward.

This is really a book for the ages. I cannot even begin to hope to explain how...much this book makes me want to drive on as far as I can. It is almost as if I can feel Melville pushing me along, encouraging me to chase the things I need to-my demons and tormentors, so that I can find some kind of peace.

Amazing, isn't it? But I feel it every time I crack this open. I feel a need to go, and go I will.


  1. We, I can't wait to reread it, hopefully slowly. Some one (my mom?) Said just skip the "digression" chapters. But I agree they are essential to Melville's style and tone.

  2. I love this book! After I finished it I bought a shirt with the cover of the book on it and I wear it proudly!

  3. The little interjections of Ishmaels individuality are one of the things that were most interesting to me as I read. At the beginning he's present to us in everything, every moment, and that continues almost entirely when they're on shore, except in the church where its really just a microcosm of the sea part of the tale. Then, once he gets on the ship, his selfness starts to dissolve in the most fascinating way, the moments of identity get fewer and fewer, until eventually, he's almost more the spirit of the ship than any one sailor, able to see scenes he could not have seen, to hear thoughts that never left the skulls they were born in, all the way until the end where his identity returns in this abrupt, jarring way, that makes you wonder if the melting into anonymity was a bad or a good thing.

  4. This is such a classic and the fact that you are posting about it is amazing...maybe you can turn more people on to it!