Considered by many as one of the best authors of the 19th century dark romanticism novels, Herman Melville will undoubtedly be remembered by his fans and critics alike as a man who transformed the American literature scene. Melville was born on 1 August1819 to Allan and Maria Gansevoort Melvill in New York City. Throughout his life, Melville wrote several books, but none is comparable to Moby Dick. Not only does Melville’s works reveal his literary prowess, but also defines his life and career.
Together with his brothers, Melville’s father sent his children to the New York Male School or Columbia Preparatory School. Overextended emotionally and financially, Melville’s father had to move his family from one place to another. However, Melville was able to attend the Albany Academy from 1830 to 18321, and again from 1836 to 1837, where he studied the classics. The desire to support himself independently of family help and his roving disposition forced him to seek for employment work as a surveyor on the Erie Canal (Delbanco 54). When his efforts failed, his brothers helped him secure a job as a cabin boy on a New York ship headed for Liverpool. He successfully made the voyage and returned on the same ship. On August 4 1847, Melville married Elizabeth Shaw, with whom he sired two sons and two daughters. Despite the fact that Melville was one of the greatest literary geniuses of his time, his last years were marked with personal tragedy. It is claimed that one of his sons named Malcolm shot himself and died in 1867 while his brother died in 1886 after a long and debilitating illness. During his final years, Melville resorted to writing prose, and completed his novel Billy Budd, which was published posthumously in 1924. Sadly, Melville died on September 28, 1891 in New York City (Delbanco 123).
Lauded as one of the best novels of all time and a masterpiece of American culture, Moby Dick secured Melville’s place among America’s greatest authors. The limits of knowledge is the widely highlighted throughout this book as Ahab experiences metaphysical and physical struggle against the great white whale, which is symbolic to man’s struggle with the devastating forces of nature (Melville 20). Ahab’s pursuit is experienced and reported through the transparent eye of Ishmael. Melville’s application of the third person’s biographical stance exposes conflicting opinions that were both in agreement and disagreement with Ahab’s pursuit, and therefore, allowing him to transcend the storyline and reprove his own philosophical ideas. Ishmael’s limit of knowledge is established as he tries to offer a simple collection of literally excerpts regarding the whale without knowing that the whale has taken incredible multiplicity of meanings. Throughout the novel, Ishmael, who is also the narrator in this story makes use of every discipline known to man to establish the essential nature of the whale. However, each of these bodies of knowledge, which include art, phrenology, and taxonomy, fails to give enough account.
In his neurotic chase of the whale, Ahab brings out the theme of the exploitive nature of whaling. Ahab represents one of the two charged impulses of the human mind in its hunt for self or the truth. His whole will is curved on the pursuit, through the boundless deep, of Moby Dick, and on his ultimate demise. As many hunters will confirm, the crucial attraction of hunting is the harmony of the hunter and the hunted at the time of death. In archaic societies, this sentiment was described as the spirit of the slain animal entering the hunter that is why it was customary for archaic hunters to identify with the prey before they could hunt. Consequently, when Ahab realizes that he cannot have the whale killed, he accepts the next thing—to yoke himself to it, though dead, and be carried through the ocean eternally. In fact, Melville indicated Emersonian dictum of self reliance, and the transcendentalism by a similar token, as essentially pointless, selfish, harmful and desolate to others. The route towards complete acceptance of individuality and freedom may be worth following, but the one goal that intends to attain is barely the haven one perhaps had in mind. That is the dream is more than expected to result in a nightmare. Such a situation is best garnered when Ahab confesses to feeling hopeless in the midst of the paradise.
Melville’s nature cannot in the long run be tamed: Moby Dick is evidence for that. But Melville is deftly sensitive to the idea that the ego of his era would go to the bed of the ocean trying to reclaim nature. Ahab characterizes the psychotic vengeance of wounded egoistic narcissism. His insanity that leads to his destruction should not be seen in isolation, but from the ordinary rape of nature. Ishmael is the only transcendentalist who transforms ideals into a source of happiness without leading to his self destruction (Melville 89).
Ahab’s self destruction came as a consequence of his dogged pushiness, a gloomy irony. His inexorable pursuit of the indescribable whale, Moby Dick finally leads into a theatrical and vicious confrontation between man and beast. Despite the ferocity of the clashes between Moby Dick and Ahab, the creature triumphs in the end and Ahab sinks into a watery grave. The fundamental idea of the inconsiderate defeats the characters suffer is a massage that is not purely austere. Rather, Anti-Transcendentalists, with their gloomy works, are harking back that even in places of bright light, darkness still exists.
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In Moby Dick, Melville is trying to illustrate man’s pursuit of supreme power of God through the Captain Ahab. The captain is obsessed with the urge to destroy his nemesis, Moby Dick. This is very symbolic of a man’s irresistible quest to conquer and control nature. Melville’s depiction of Ahab as a wickedness and egoistical man whose willingness to face the forces of nature depicts man’s failure to comprehend his exact place in the universe (Melville 126). Through Ishmael, Melville is able to voice his philosophies that portray Ahab as a wicked captain who fails to acknowledge that he is facing an unconquerable force. Through Ishmael, Melville articulates his longing for nature and beauty, and at the same time, he contradicts his desires against mankind’s tendencies for the controlling dark-side of human nature.
Melville is of the opinion that the dark-side of human nature cannot and would not interact with nature and as a result, leads to its ultimate destruction. Ishmael sees Ahab as a person who is possessed and believes that he could overcome evil and death. Melville writes “He seemed like a man cut from a stake…his brad thigh seemed to be made from solid bronze, and shaped in like an unalterable mold, like Celoni’s cast Perseus” (Melville, 111-112). This statement depicts a man who soul has been plagued by the water’s of hell in his quest to reach a deadly quest.Consequently, Melville’s Ahab has tried to transcend himself and his crew into a conflict with nature. This conflict becomes the demonic and wrapped idea of a man who is willing to confront the powers of Moby Dick, which is an epitome of the utmost force in nature. Irrespective of the onslaught that Ahab is destined to, he will be headed for failure as a result of his monomaniacal spirited pursuit.
In my opinion, this book is a must read as Melville has not only evinced considerable knowledge of the human heart combined with a meticulous acquaintance with his subject of discussion, but also showcases a rare versatility of talent. In describing the idiosyncrasies of all his characters, Melville has shown inexplicable power of discrimination and acuteness of observation, which would render his work a valuable addition to your library. In fact, the book is not a treatise, nor a romance on Category, but a combination of both. Even though critics have tried to prick many holes in this work, no criticism will thwart its fascination.
In conclusion, it is imperative to understand that Dick Moby is just one among many novels that were written by this prodigy. His first novel Typee, which was written in 1846, depicts his life among the cannibalistic people of Typee. In 1847, he wrote yet another novel, which details another whaling adventure which ended up in a mutiny and a jail term in Tahitian, from which he easily escaped (Mundow para.4). After his marriage to Elizabeth Shaw in 1847, Melville started to write a new book entitled Mardi, which would be published in 1849. However, it is his 1849’s Redburn and 1850’s White-Jacket that made Melville famous, but neither expanded his reputation. His most renowned book “Dick Moby” was published in 1851 followed by Pierre (1852). He also wrote some short stories such as Bartleby the Scrivener in 1853 and Benito Cereno in 18555. I would recommend Dick Moby and every work of this writer to anybody as they not only reveal his literary prowess, but also define his life and career.