LITERARY TREND AND AUTHOR CANON
Dark Romanticism in Melville’s novels
- Character: Ishmael is a dark romantic hero: individualistic, introspective, brooding
- Romantic antinomic characters: Queequeg and Ishmael
- Themes: obsession, revenge.
Naturalism in Melville’s novels
- Character: Ahab is a madman driven by revenge;
- Nature is a brute force that afflicts individual lives;
- The human mind cannot truly understand nature;
- Theme: implacable destiny;
- Overturned symbol: whiteness signifies void and lack of meaning.
MOBY DICK (published 1851)
- Genre: novel of adventure, psychological thriller, tragedy.
- 19th century America, The New England Coast, and Nantucket;
- The open sea and The Pequod ship;
- The ship sails around the world, through three different oceans, but water remains the main focus of the setting.
Main theme: Defiance and revenge.
The story follows Ahab’s maniacal obsession with vengeance. He defies God and nature in his search for the white whale that caused his injury. He refuses to accept the fact that the animal’s action was instinctual and seeks revenge against an authority that he refuses to accept (God or nature). His actions are mad and lead to his death, but he is aware of this possible outcome and prefers it to submission.
Ishmael, a former teacher, boards a whaler named the Pequod for a three-year voyage to hunt sperm whales. The captain, Ahab, makes the crew swear that they will help him hunt the White Whale that took off his leg. The Pequod sails the seas hunting whales but encounters misfortunes (broken equipment, a typhoon). They spot the white whale and follow it for three days, during which it kills almost all men and sinks all whaling boats. The ship sinks and the captain throws a final harpoon at the whale but drowns in the attempt. The only survivor is Ishmael, who lives to tell the tale.
Characters presented in the analysis of the literary fragment should be adapted to the fragment itself.
- Ishmael – the narrator and a junior member of the crew of the Pequod. He plays a minor role in the events of the novel but takes up a lot of the narrative with his extravagant discourse on whales and whaling.
- Ahab – the captain of the Pequod. He lost his leg to Moby Dick and has become obsessed with revenge. He is both charismatic and terrifying to the crew and he persuades and frightens the sailors into joining him in his quest for revenge. He is dictatorial but fair. He has a compassionate side, which is revealed when he cares for crew members and when he remembers his wife and child.
- Moby Dick – also referred to as the white whale, is a great sperm whale. It is a dangerous threat to sailors. Ahab considers it the incarnation of evil and his nemesis, destined by fate.
POINT OF VIEW
- A combination of first- and third-person point of view;
- Ishmael narrates the events he sees and provides his thoughts;
- Some chapters are entirely written in the third-person (chapter 44) and contain elements that Ishmael can’t know, but they are still presented in his voice and tone but in an omniscient manner;
- There are chapters that use a dramatic style, similar to a play (chapter 40).
A combination of narrative tones:
- Thoughtful with some humour and affection: used by Ishmael when he describes scenes of whaling and sailing;
- Elaborate, complex sentences, with lots of clauses;
- Elaborately crafted sentences and syntax structures;
- Ornate vocabulary;
- Figurative language:
Example: “a terrific, loud, animal, sob, like that of a heart-stricken moose”
Example: “a sharp eye for the white whale”
Example: “I am game for his crooked jaw”