‘Moby Dick’ also known by the title ‘The Whale’ by Herman Melville is an American novel that first got its publication in 1851. Many scholars have considered it as a great American literary novel some claiming labeling it a world literature treasure. The novel narrates an account of the wanderings and adventures of Ishmael, a sailor, and his voyage aboard Pequod a whale ship, commandeered by Ahab as its captain (Bloom pp 34). While on voyage Ishmael learns that Ahab’s voyage is driven by a fevering desire to pursue and kill Mob Dick an n enigmatic and ferocious white sperm whale which had attacked and bitten off his led after destroying his whale board during a whale hunt. Ahab is therefore on a revenge mission that ends up in doom with Ishmael as the only survivor since after pursuing Mod Dick for quite sometime they finally find him but he attacks and kills Ahab and all his ship crew except Ahab.
This paper will be based on Melville use of language based on the novel more particularly the use of language to bring out the intended meaning of the text. Through out the novel the language that is used is very stylized ranging from the use of descriptive names, employment of idioms and imagery and extended soliloquy and symbolism characterized by Shakespearean diction in exploration of the numerous complex thematic concerns (Bloom pp 54). Reading the novel intensively one thing that is so evident is that Melville does not simply use of language as just a means that he chooses in communicating his message. Rather he also uses his expressive language since the book is about the limitations and the power of words among other things.
For instance in the famous chapter “The Whiteness of the Whale” we see Ishmael trying to struggle with the meaning of some words which leaves him pondering over language prospects. He tries to define the ‘ineffable’ and ‘nameless’ quality that characterizes Mob Dick which is even as he is driven in to desperation of ‘putting in a form that is comprehensible (Melville 188).’ The word comprehensible here can be taken as an indication of the duty that is endowed onto language which is to make itself understandable (Bloom pp 109). The language that is used in this chapter is highly symbolic taking the whale and its whiteness for instance. As the book demonstrates in regard the whiteness of the whale, whiteness is often associated with things that are pure, honorable innocent and sublime. Yet Ishmael note that there lurks something elusive in the idea of this hue in reference to Mob Dick (Melville pp 191) and his terror which evokes more panic than the reddening that frightens in blood. He uses language symbolically and innovatively in his different excerpt that cites whiteness to demonstrate the many multiplicities in meaning that it takes which are rather incredible. As he describes these multiplicities he employs a conversational tone to create inquiries in the readers mind over the nature of the whiteness of the whale and hence challenges our knowledge on the topic. This chapter also plays a very significant role in developing his main theme which is ‘the limits of knowledge.’
In the development of the above themes as cited above, Melville in the entire novel uses imagery and symbolism which is expressed in a tone that is very conversational using a language that is very reflective. Imager can be identified in the form of extensive metaphors such as the enigmatic nature of the whale and its whiteness. For instance, in the previously discussed chapter the whale is described as ‘ineffable and nameless (Melville pp 211).’ Even as the novel opens Ishmael offers a collection of literary excerpts that are meant to inform the reader more about whales. As he explore through history he realizes that the whale has always assumed an incredible variety of meaning (Melville pp 273)and is unpredictable just like fate. Throughout the entire course of the novels Melville utilizes every known discipline in an attempt to create an understanding of the whale’s nature through the account of Ishmael’s adventure.
The examples of knowledge systems that he uses include ‘phrenology, taxonomy and art (Kellet pp 45)’ but none of this gives an account which is adequate. The multiplicity in regard to the approaches that Ishmael takes in exploring the whale’s nature can be tied with his compulsive need in asserting authority as a narrator as well as the references that he frequently makes to the limits that characterize observation. For instance he says that ‘men cannot see the depth of the ocean (Melville pp 305).’ This suggests that human knowledge is hence insufficient and always limited. The way that Ishmael cannot explain the nature of the whale or its whiteness for example shows that human knowledge and observation is insufficient and limited. Bringing in the issue of Mob Dick himself, the limitations that characterize human knowledge take a deep turn of events as to him they assume an allegorical significance. Mob Dick’s ways just like those of God in religion are not easily known to man. Hence trying to pursue them or to make a deep interpretation to them like Ahab is trying to through out the whole novel proves to be futile in an inevitable manner and those who pursue them end up in a fatal end.
In application to real life situations in the world today, the theme of the limits of human language is very applicable if we tern on to religion and more specifically the myths that surround existence. For instance, sometime one is driven to inquire into to the myth of creation. According to the scriptures God created man and the whole universe which was all covered in darkness. One might be tempted to make an inquiry into where God came from since He must have some routs and who created darkness and the land and water that used to be before our existence. These are some of the questions that human beings have never been able to certainly explain. Those who have tried end probably insane and all man can do is come up with myths and theories which certainly explain the limits of human knowledge since no one can ever give an accurate account of being. The theories and myths that human beings come up with are mere speculations of their beliefs in regard to their place in the universe.
As man tries to express his personal beliefs and place in place in the universe literature plays a very important role in communicating their expressions as they interact with their environment. Literature provides a platform in which human being can play around with words to communicating the issues that characterize their lives. Through the use of its elements such as imagery, symbolism, proverbs among other elements they manipulate messages to present them in the way they want which could be direct or indirect. They formulate coded meaning in these elements to comment, describe or express issues that affect their lives through coding them in to what is otherwise in literary term is known as themes. Through interacting with what is put in text and making interpretation of the element of literature then readers can decode the meaning that is contained in the different types of literature. For instance through the interaction with the book Mob Dick we follow the main character’s journey interpreting the different elements if style to understand that the author is making a commentary on concepts of social status and class, good and evil and existence of gods (Kellet pp 76). This is as through Ishmael makes speculation upon his place in the society as well as personal beliefs. And that is how we derive the authors meaning in literature.
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