Ahoy, Mateys! Welcome to Moby Dick – Blog #4!
I’m up to page 175, Chapter 45, The Affidavit. That means I have 300 pages left, and it’s already July 3rd. So perhaps I will not fit all three Big Bad Books in before the end of summer. We shall see…
The point of view issues continue. Right after where I left off last week, I got to the bizarre whale categorization chapter (which is where I stopped reading on my last endeavor into this text), and then the chapters started sounding a bit play-like, and then became completely a play. After that, there’s a break indicated with a line of asterisks, and then Ishmael comes back in as narrator. But then Chapter 43 seems to not be from his point of view again, and Chapter 44 is an omniscient narrator: “Had you followed Captain Ahab down into his cabin after the squall…” and we get some discussion of Ahab’s private mapmaking habits.
What to make of this? Well, the book is a hybrid thing. It’s got a little bit of everything in it, it seems! And the crew of the Peqoud, too, right? I mean, that play chapter lists sailors from all over the world, not just parts of New England or even the whole of the United States—the whaling ship as melting pot, if you will. And in the chapters where Melville goes off on rants—about whaling, about the color white—he weaves bits of Americana into his wide-ranging set of references.
From all this, I feel like this book is both about America and the hodge-podge that it is, and defending America and the hodge-podge that it is, and also constructed as a hodge-podge to establish some kind of American narrative that reflects our hodge-podge nation. My husband tells me I’m beginning to get what Melville was attempting—he’s such a snob, right?! 😉
Okay, but I will admit here, if you’re reading Moby Dick solely because you want to go on a whaling adventure, it is not the book for you. And the language—syntactically-speaking, or considering the vocabulary—is pretty tough in places, but so beautiful. I read on Wikipedia that Melville was influenced by Shakespeare in the writing of this. Boy, is that apparent in those soliloquy chapters (37-39).
So why read it? Well, it’s an amazing attempt to do everything in one book. And the language, as I said, is gorgeous. And it’s funny! Did you notice in the chapter where he sets out to classify whales, he weighs whether the whale is a fish or not, and decides the matter based on the opinion of “my friends Simeon Macey and Charley Coffin, of Nantucket, both messmates of mine in a certain voyage, and they united in the opinion that the reasons set forth [by science for why the whale is not a fish] were altogether insufficient. Charley profanely hinted they were humbug.” HA!
I am definitely in the camp that this is an awesome book, if not exactly a page-turning, plot-fest. There are portions that do feel like a page-turning, plot-fest, so there is some of that, but there’s so much more to this book.
Which makes me feel like this book is all the more YA-appropriate. I became interested in writing YA precisely because the genre seemed so avant garde. My favorite books—Monster, Speak, How I Live Now—were written as plays in parts! Had pictures! Were these insane, voice-heavy rants! I’d never read anything like them. Today, YA has novels-in-poems, and graphic novels, and part-graphic novels, and part-scripts, and so on. It is a place for experimental narrative forms. Just like Moby Dick. So yay, Melville.
Moby Dick: the great-great-granddaddy of the YA novel.
Turning to the present, did you know there is a real, live white whale in Australia? His name is Migaloo. Here he is!
More next week!