The research paper critically evaluates the life of Herman Melville. Additionally, the paper is a literacy criticism of his works; this means that Melville works are critically analyzed in this paper. Literacy criticism refers to the act of evaluating, describing, analyzing as well as interpreting literary works. It is usually done in an essay manner and can be on a particular work of an author or an entire writings of an author.
The analysis is about the major themes in Melville work, Moby-Dick, also known as The Whale have been used to develop the themes in the novel. The working hypothesis for this research work is, major themes have been brought out effectively and successfully. The question guiding the research is what is the major or main themes Melville’s novel Moby-Dick.
It is worth noting that Melville works were not received by in good faith not till his death. In the novel Moby-Dick, the characters include; pip, dough-boy, the mates which include Starbuck, Stuff, and Flush, Ahab, Elija, Moby-Dick, Fedallah, Ishmael, harpooners, Queequeg, Daggoo and Tashtego,. The major themes in this work include obsession, religion, politics, hierarchical relationships, sanity, revenge, racism and pragmatism.
Herman Melville an American novelist, short story writer, poet, essayist whose works were classified under the genre of dark romanticism was born in august 1 1819 in New York, city. He was the third born of Allan and Maria Melvill. The later e was added by his mother to the family name after the death of his father. Allan his father spends most of the time abroad because he was a commission merchant and imported dry goods from France. Herman paternal grand was Major Thomas Melvill who was painted as the last leaf due to his refusal to change to fit the then time (Robertson-Lorant 4). Herman maternal grandfather was General Peter Gansevoort, a hero of the Battle of Saratoga.
Herman attended the New York male school. The financial problem facing Allan made him to move together with the family to Albany. His hand on fur business was ruined by the 1812 war which forced him to be declared bankrupt. Allan died when Herman was only 12 years. Between 1830 and 1831 and again from 1836 to 1837, Herman attended Albany Academy studying classics. His formal schooling came to an end when he was fifteen, having in mind that their father died leaving the family penniless, he took several jobs to provide for the family. He worked as a clerk, a teacher a farmers as well as a storekeeper (Kirby 22)
He was assisted later by his brother to secure a job as cabin boy on a New York ship that abound Liverpool. His voyage was successful as he came back via the same ship. His first work Redburn: His work Voyage is based on the experience of this journey. Later in 1841, Herman traveled via Acushnet from New Bedford to Pacific Ocean, this took 18 months. In July the following year, Herman left the Acushnet and for three good months he lived with Typee.
In his novel the Typee, he describes a love affair he had with a native girl that was very beautiful. Herman later went to Honolulu via a ship going to Hawaii. At the destination, Herman opposed the efforts of missionaries that tried to convert the native to Christianity, this made him seen as a controversial figure (Kirby 42). He joined a group frigate USS United States which by 1844 it was back to Boston. His works Typee, Omoo and white jacket were based on the experiences. The publication of Typee was delayed till 1846 although it was completed in 1945.
In august 4 a year after publication of Typee, Herman got married to Elizabeth Shaw a daughter of the then chief justice of Massachusetts. The couple was blessed with four kids, two sons and two daughters. Three years down the line after the marriage, they bought a farm house in Pittsfield Massachusetts. He lived there for 13 years fully kept busy with writings and running the activities of his farm (Kirby, 47).
During his stay there, he became friends with Nathaniel Hawthorn. His writing did were not receive with popularity a success as his previous works. This negatively impacted on his financial stability. He became a lecturer to supplement his financial state that was faltering. He later turned into poetry; this did not bear fruits as the collection did not appeal to a publisher. The family later resettled in New York in 1863. Three years later he got a position as a custom supervisor for the city of New York, this was through the influence of his wife and relatives holding the position for almost 20 years. During this period he was recognized as the only honest employee in the midst of corruption.
His efforts to engage in writing came to a stand still when he tried to publish a poem, Clarel which was an inspiration of his trip to Holy Land. After the publication, no one bought the copies and they were later burnt when Melville failed to buy them at a cost. At that time his marriage was not a happy one. It was rumored that he became alcoholic, insane and physically abused his wife. His two sons died, the eldest shot himself, Stanwix death, his second son depressed Melville more. He retired in 1886. Melville died aged 72 years, in September 28 1891. In the death certificate, he cause of his death was indicated to be cardiac dilation (Kirby, 54).
Herman Melville works
Melville who died almost a forgotten has numerous works. His works range from poetry to fiction work. The notable works include; fictions, Israel Potter, Mardi and a Voyage Thither, Moby Dick, Omoo, Redburn: His First Voyage, The confidence man, Typee and white jacket. Poetry book titled John Marr and other poems. Short stories written by Melville include Bartleby the scrivener: A story of Wall Street, I and my chimney, the bell-tower, Benito Cereno, the piazza, enchanted Isles, the lightening rod man. He also wrote a number of journals and letters (Herman, 33).
Use of characters in developing major themes in Moby-Dick
Plot summery of Moby-Dick
In Moby-Dick also known as the whale, the story is told of an adventure that include a wandering sailor Ishmael and his Voyage on the whale ship Pequod under the command of Ahab the captain. The former learns later that the captain is in the mission of seeking one particular whale called Moby-Dick. The captain intends to revenge because the ferocious animal destroyed the captain’s boat and bit his leg.
At the very beginning of the novel, “call me Ishmael” is the opening line. The one narrating the story is a young man who is very observant full of experience in merchant marine but ha changed his mind to have a voyage with a whaling ship. One December, a chilly one indeed, he arrives in New Bedford a place called Spouter-Inn in Massachusetts. He shares a bed with a stranger. The moment his mate-Queequeg return late in the night and found Ishmael in bed, both are surprised but became friends and decided to sail together from Nantucket via a whaling ship.
While at Nantucket, the two signed on Pequod, a whaling ship. The captain of the ship Ahab is not within the vicinity at time of departure. The two are given details of the captain as being a grand ungodly, godlike man. The two later met Elija immediately after signing their papers: who hints at problems to be experienced with Ahab. On the Christmas morning, Ishmael spotted a dark figure boarding their whaling ship before sailing. The officers direct the ship while the captain Ahab remains in his cabin. The three mates are responsible for a particular whaling boat. Later, the captain appears on the quarter-deck, this made the narrator shiver. His description of the captain says it all, “he looked like a man cut away from the stake…” (Herman, 400)
The captain gathered his team with the solemn purpose of letting them knows the ultimate reason for the voyage. The purpose was clear, to hunt down and kill Moby Dick, an old ferocious an albino whale that left Ahab crippled the last time he was in a voyage. The crew unanimously agrees except Starbuck who depicted some resistance to the idea. It later emerged that Ahab had secretly brought along his own boat and crew including Fedallah, a harpooner who is deemed to have influenced Ahab in a sinister manner. Fedallah once prophesized his death as well as Ahab’s one night as watching over a captured whale.
The novel talks of several meeting of ships in which crews, mates and captains visited each other. A time there is exchange of mails, talking about a number of current events and whale sighting. The only thing Ahab could ask the other ship is whether they have seen the white whale. In the Pacific Ocean Queequeg fall seriously ill and requested the ship carpenter to make a coffin for him. When everybody had lost hope, Queequeg decided to shrug of the illness and decided to live again. The coffins replace the ship’s life buoy (Herman, 388).
The presence of the white whale is reported to the Pequod’s crew. The latest victim is the captain of Samuel Enderby who lost his arm to the whale who is mesmerized on Ahab’s quest to revenge. Ahab’s team met with Rachel, a whale ship that has just seen the hunted whale. During the encounter, one of the boats got lost and Rachel’s captain urges Ahab for assistance to look for it as his son was on board. Ahab is reluctant as he is close to his target and could not do anything to destruct his quest (Jamey, 124).
Ahab met with the Delight, the captain of the whale ship burying one of his sailors who was killed by Moby-Dick. The efforts of Starbuck to make Ahab retreat from his quest to revenge hit a snug.
A day later, Pequod met the albino whale-Moby-Dick, the crew pursued the whale for two good days causing huge destruction to the ship as well as disappearance of Parsee. After the two days, the whale shown up with Parsee of course dead tied to it. On the third day, as observed by Starbuck, the whale swum away and for this reason, he tells his captain, “Moby-Dick seeks thee not. It is thou, thou, that madly seekest him”( Jamey, 119)
The captain still ignores the cry and continues pursuing his chase. Using the three boats to hunt the whale, two of them are destroyed by the Moby-Dick. Ahab harpooned the whale, but the line broke. Then the whhale rammed Pequod making it to sink. The captain tries to harpoon the whale a second time, the harpoon line unfortunately caught him in the neck and he is dragged into ocean by the whale. Ishmael is the only survivor who clung on the coffin made for Queequeg till he was rescued by Rachel.
The character in the novel include; Ishmael, Elija, Ahab, Moby dick, mates comprised of Starbuck, Stubb and Flash, Harpooners constituted Queequed, Tashtego, Daggoo and Fedallah. Other notable characters in this work include Pip and Dough-boy (Herman, 416).
Major themes in Moby-Dick
The first themes that come out clearly in the novel are that of revenge. From the onset, we are clearly told the reason of Ahab’s Voyage, he intends to carry out vengeance against the white whale that made him cripple the last time he was in the open sea.
Despite the fact that the serious consequences of trying to counter the whale is made known to Ahab by even seeing a captain of Delight burying one of his sailors and meeting captain Boomer who has lost his hand to the whale, Ahab still does not relent in his quest to take revenge against the whale. Within this theme, another one emerges which is persistence. All in all, we clearly see at the end of the novel that revenging usually carries serious consequences with it, Ahab and all his crew except Ishmael lost their lives.
Additionally, civilization and Christianity/religion versus uncivilization/paganism have been brought out clearly by Melville. The association between Ishmael and Queequeg in the entire novel depicts the prevailing disparity between those persons who are civilized and religious and uncivilized pagan communities. Through Queequeg, one of the most romanticized personality, his uncivilized and magnificent character vague his real honor and the elegant conduct (Kirby, 77). The author deconstructs Queequeg placing him in a sympathetic scenario making us see characters form either side to be similar. Consequently, those society that are pagan have been equated to diabolical manners, this has been effectively achieved through Ahab, the captain of Pequod. The captain chooses the three pagan bloods in trying to temper his harpoon in the name of the devil. Similarly, Fedallah the most corrupt and a sinister influence to Ahab is deemed to be a Satan. It is thus noting that equating the characters of the pagan in the novel with Satan does align with the Christian nature of the novel, presuming that religion is the basis and moral ground of any society.
Transition a change from one distinct state to another is also brought forth clearly in the novel by Melville. Through Queequeg, Daggoo and Tashtego, they transform from being uncivilized to being civilized (Herman, 413). The most prominent for of transition in the novel is from life to death. Various characters have encountered serious cases that were a matter of life and death. Queequeg provide a good example-le, when he fell serious ill, he prepares himself for death by requesting the ship carpenter to make him a coffin, and he eventually changes his mind and decides to live again. Later, the coffin turned to be a transition element when it was converted to be a life buoy which later saves the life of Ishmael.
In addition, other minor characters such as Pip have existence in transition states of life and death. When he jumped from the whaling boat, he is miraculously saved, there after he became insane and behaves as though an “infinite part of his soul is dead” lastly, the blacksmith working in the open sea escaped traps of life after the death of his family, his stay in the sea is just to a wait for his actual death (Herman, 393).
Another theme brought out clearly is that of harbingers, prophecies and superstition (Herman, 407). At the beginning, while Ishmael was boarding the whaling ship captained by Ahab, a stranger at Nantucket warns Queequeg and Ishmael of the troubles awaiting them if they travel with Ahab. Fedallah had a prophetic dream in which it revolved around Ahab’s quest to revenge against Moby-Dick. The former dreamt of seeing hearses, it is clear that he misinterpreted the dream saying that Ahab will kill the whale, because at the end we see Ahab plus his entire crew dying except Ishmael.
Various characters in the novel are bound and driven by superstition; most believe that the whale ship kill the right whale is due to the legend that Pequod has good luck when it will have the head of a right whale and the head of a sperm whale on each side of the ship. We also see such a case where a hawk took the captain’s hat; this was interpreted to mean he will be the king of Rome. The ultimate purpose of the numerous omens thought-out the novel is to bring out a sense of inexorableness (Herman, 353).
From the review of the 1851 work of Melville, the Moby-Dick, various themes come out clear. This includes revenge, region, superstition and civilization to mention but a few. Various characters such as Ahab, Ishmael, Queequeg, Daggoo among others have been used in developing the theme. The novel is basically a story of Ahab who seeks to revenge against an albino whale that left him crippled the last time he was in the open sea.