Moby-Dick - This book is gonna make it! (review)
Finishing "Moby Dick" goes up there with my greatest (and few) academic achievements. It was a gruelling read, but---in the end---completely worthwhile.
I've been reading it for 6 months. I started over the summer, during an abroad program in Oxford, and I remember sitting outside reading when one of the professors came over, saw what I was reading, and said: "It's a very strange book, isn't it?"
Looking back, that might be the best way to describe it. The blurb from D.H. Lawrence on the back cover agrees: Moby Dick "commands a stillness in the soul, an awe...[it is] one of the strangest and most wonderful books in the world."
Now there are those who will say that the book's middle is unbearable---with its maddeningly detailed accounts of whaling. Part of me agrees. That was the hardest to get through. But, still, even the most dull subject offers Melville an opportunity to show off his writing chops. He's a fantastic writer---his text most resembles that of Shakespeare.
And, like one Shakespeare's characters, Melville sees all the world as a stage. Consider this beautiful passage from the first chapter:
"Though I cannot tell why it was exactly that those stage managers, the Fates, put me down for this shabby part of a whaling voyage, when others were set down for magnifient parts in high tragedies, and short and easy parts in genteel comedies, and jolly parts in farces--though I cannot tell why this was exactly; yet, now that I recall all the circumstances, I think I can see a little into the springs and motives which being cunningly presented to me under various disguises, induced me to set about performing the part I did, besides cajoling me into the delusion that it was a choice resulting from my own unbiased freewill and discriminating judgment."
The end of "Moby Dick" informs the rest of the book, and in doing so makes rereading it inevitable. It is telling that Moby Dick doesn't appear until page 494. It is telling, because, the majority of the book is spent in anticipation---in fact, the whole book is anticipation. It's not unlike sex, actually---delaying gratification to a point of almost sublime anguish. What comes at the book's end, then, is mental, physical, and spiritual release (as well as fufillment).
The book leaves you with questions both large and small. I was actually most troubled with this question---What happened to Ishmael? No, we learn his fate at the book's end, but where was he throughout it? We all know how it starts---"Call me Ishmael"---and the book's first few chapters show him interacting with Queequeg and an innkeeper. But then we lose him onboard the Pequod---we never see him interact with anyone. No one ever addresses him. He seems to witness extremely private events---conferences in the Captain's quarters, conversations aboard multiple boats, and--what can only be his conjecture--the other characters' internal dialogue. Is he a phantom? What is he that he isn't? Somehow I think this question masks a much larger and more important one.
Try "Moby Dick." Actually, don't try it---read it. Work at it. Like lifting weights a bit heavier than you're used to, "Moby Dick" will strengthen your brain muscle. Don't believe those who hate it, they didn't read it. They didn't work at it. Be like Ishmael, who says: "I try all things; I achieve what I can." Or, more daringly, be like Ahab, whose ambition is his curse, but whose curse propels and writes the book itself.
Article name: Moby-Dick - This book is gonna make it! (review) essay, research paper, dissertation