Sunday 8 June 2014

Books make great gifts because they have whole worlds inside of them. And it's much cheaper to buy somebody a book than it is to buy them the whole world! - Neil Gaiman

I'm not really one for updates on my progress through a book. I don't like the pressure. The interruptions. And I don't really like commenting on anything when I don't have a full overview of it.

Still, I'm going to make an exception with Moby Dick as I'm taking part in this readalong. Which I'm actually enjoying. Thinking about everyone reading the same book at the same time. Somewhere in the world. It's ever so motivating.

And anyway it's quite a hefty book. Meaning if I waited till the end you wouldn't be hearing from me for another month. Or maybe two.

I have to say that I'm pleasantly surprised by my initial experience of MD. It's been a fairly easy and enjoyable read thus far. Interesting. Quirky. Descriptive. Zippy.

The chapters are short which make the reading easy. You feel like you're moving along quite speedily. And this echoes the observations of our narrator, Ishmael, looking around, taking everything in.
His descriptions are stunning. "A gable-ended old house, one side palsied as it were, and leaning over sadly." "Humming to himself in his heathenish way." "I sat there in that now lonely room."

This suggests not only an observant man. But a sensitive, perceptive man. Open to be educated by the world around him instead of relying on his education to mould his view of the world.

And so begins my list of themes running through it: acceptance versus prejudice. Perception versus reality. Friendship and intimacy versus scorn and rejection. Tradition versus humanity.

Of course you can't escape the constant biblical references that litter this work. These may indeed be the point of the work? I will learn that in good time.

They begin with the names of the characters:
Ishmael = God hears. Abraham's son by Hagar. Sent away for disrespecting Isaac, the promised seed and Abraham's son by Sarah.
Peleg = Division. In the line from Shem to Abraham.
Bildad = One of Job's three companions. A descendant of Shuah, the son of Abraham by Keturah.
Ahab = King of the northern kingdom of Israel. Married to a pagan wife, Jezebel.
Elijah = One of the foremost prophets of Israel. 

The fiery sermon by Father Mapple Rose about Jonah and the whale then sets the tone: Jonah disobeys God. God’s reacts. "And God had prepared a great fish to swallow up Jonah."

The woes pronounced by MP will, I feel, be significant for the rest of the tale. But to what extent, I cannot say. 

All I can say is that it would appear that Melville is lamenting the state of mankind. "It's a wicked world in all meridians." "Bildad... had come to the sage and sensible conclusion that a man's religion is one thing and this practical world quite another." "We good Presbyterian Christians should be charitable in these things and not think ourselves so superior to other mortals, pagans and what not…. Heaven have mercy on us all – Presbyterians and pagans alike – for we are all somehow dreadfully cracked and sadly need mending."

And so I continue. I've yet to meet Ahab. And methinks there are many adventures awaiting me as the Pequod sets sail...


  1. Loved your thoughts, and I completely agree with you about the type of education Ishmael seems to exude, which is a worldly one. He's a highly observant narrator, for sure, and much more open-minded than most of the people around him. I think Melville's making all sorts of points through Ishmael's experiences, opinions, comments, etc. One of the most profound, in my opinion, is his ability to evaluate his own prejudices and then judge a man based on his character rather than his opinion. Queequeg, so far, seems quite a decent man - not what we might expect from the literary "dark pagans" of this period.

  2. I love your description of Ishmael as "Open to be educated by the world around him instead of relying on his education to mould his view of the world." This is an insightful comment. I'll be thinking about this attribute of Ishmael as I move forward.