I finished reading the first chapter and scribbled notes furiously until I could come and write a post. I don't think I have ever stopped myself after just one chapter to jot down my thoughts, but the words in the beginning of Moby-Dick were just so...powerful I felt the need to share my thoughts from the beginning.
I need to share the opening paragraph. From the first sentence, it is perfection:
"Call me Ishmael. Some years ago- never mind how long precisely- having little or no money in my purse, and nothing particular to interest me on shore, I thought I would sail about a little and see the watery part of the world. It is a way I have of driving off the spleen and regulating the circulation. Whenever I find myself growing grim about the mouth; whenever it is a damp, drizzly November in my soul; whenever I find myself involuntarily pausing before coffin warehouses, and bringing up the rear of every funeral I meet; and especially whenever my hypos get such an upper hand of me, that it requires a strong moral principle to prevent me from deliberately stepping into the street, and methodically knocking people's hats off- then, I account it high time to get to sea as soon as I can. This is my substitute for pistol and ball. With a philosophical flourish Cato throws himself upon his sword; I quietly take to the ship. There is nothing surprising in this. If they but knew it, almost all men in their degree, some time or other, cherish very nearly the same feelings towards the ocean with me."
I love the passion Melville manages to portray from the beginning. He doesn't lead the reader on with pointless exposition, but instead shows us the power of the sea from the beginning. After all, we know the story is about the great oceans from just the title. But to capture the call and the beckoning of the sea to a character in such a beautiful way...I just love it. When he says, "I account it high time to get to sea as soon as I can," I can feel that passion, not that I love the sea. But I see it similar to the way I view words, books, and reading. There are times when I crave comfort, so I run and grab my copy of Leaves of Grass and fall into it. I can understand that passion, and Melville evokes it right from the beginning.
I also love the mystery and aura Melville strikes into the heart of his readers with that first line, "Call me Ishmael." I have always heard that line and thought it an odd choice to open, but I can see how it fits, just pages into the novel. We are seeing the very soul of a man from the first page. It is honest and open in a way that many novels are not.
This beginning chapter also shows the reader that at times, there are many things greater than ourselves. We have desires, passions, that call to us and don't let go until we give way. As a reader, I saw that in Ishmael from the beginning. He feels a call to go to the sea, to look into its great depths and be comforted by whatever he may find there. The important thing, however, is that he has the desire and urge to go. And I know that Melville is talking about more than just the sea, but also about American destiny at this time period.
In the 1800s, Americans were pushing westward, exploring the dark places of the map and moving. If you really think about it, those early Americans and those who were born here, have the trait of exploration. It took guts to leave the known world behind and travel somewhere new to explore vast wildernesses. And the sea is still a wilderness to many. So not only is Melville commenting on the urge for Americans to continually discover, but also on the mysteries of the sea.
I find this whole beginning inspiring. I just want to sink further into the depth of Melville's words and see everything as he, and Ishmael, describe it to me. I, too, want to go to the sea and breathe in the salty air. It has sparked that adventurous spirit within me, and I cannot wait to see where Melville takes me.