Ahab, beliefs, clean conscience, creeds, Dagoo, demoniac waves, despair, desperado philosophy, earth, Ecclesiastes 1:9, executors, faith, Flask, forelornness, great White Whale, Herman Melville, hope, Ishmael, landsman, lawyers, Lazarus, legatees, life, Moby-Dick, pagans, painted sailors in wax, Passion, Peqoud, persuasions, Queequeg, quiet ghost, resurrection, seasons, Solomon, soul, spiritual man, Starbuck, tides, universe, Vanity, whales, whaling
Ishmael ( Melville) refers back to Ecclesiastes 1:9, and summarizes their voyage: “. . . these marvels (like all marvels) are mere repetitions of the ages; so that for the millionth time we say amen with Solomon—Verily there is nothing new under the sun.”
Ahab had no control over “the complete spiritual man” of Starbuck, and he knew it. As for Starbuck, “the chief mate, in his soul, abhorred his captain’s quest, and could he, would joyfully disintegrate himself from it, or even frustrate it.”
Melville’s description of the small-in-stature Flask riding on the back of the Atlas-like Dagoo while both ride the wild waves from inside their whale-boat, is engagingly vivid: “. . . the sight of little Flask mounted upon gigantic Dagoo was yet more curious; for sustaining himself with a cool, indifferent, easy, unthought of, barbaric majesty, the noble negro to every roll of the sea harmoniously rolled his fine form. On his broad back, flaxon-haired Flask seemed a snow-flake. The bearer looked nobler than the rider. Through truly vivacious, tumultuous, ostentatious little Flask would now and then stamp with impatience; but not one added heave did he thereby give to the negro’s lordly chest.” Melville adds the mysterious afterthought: “So have I seen Passion and Vanity stamping the living magnanimous earth, but the earth did not alter her tides and her seasons for that.”
Melville again is engagingly vivid in his description of the men in their small-in-comparison boats as they encounter the massive whales: “To a landsman, no whale, nor any sign of a herring, would have been visible at that moment; nothing but a troubled bit of greenish white water, and thin scattered puffs of vapor hovering over it, and suffusingly blowing off to leeward, like the confused scud from white rolling billows. The air around suddenly vibrated and tingled, as it were, like the air over intensely heated plates of iron. Beneath this atmospheric waving and curling, and partially beneath a thin layer of water, also, the whales were swimming.”
The men in the tossed-about and failing boat desperately cling to hope that their small light will be seen by the ship, and they will be rescued. “. . . cutting the lashing of the waterproof match keg, after many failures Starbuck contrived to ignite the lamp in the lantern; then stretching it on a waif pole, handed it to Queequeg as the standard-bearer of this forlorn hope. There, then, he sat, holding up that imbecile candle in the heart of that almighty forelornness. There, then, he sat, the sign and symbol of a man without faith, hopelessly holding up hope in the midst of despair.” Melville’s description of the pagan Queequeg as “a man without faith, hopelessly holding up hope in the midst of despair” is brilliant.
Ishmael (Melville) philosophizes a thesis: “There is nothing like the perils of whaling to breed this free and easy sort of genial, desperado philosophy; and with it I now regarded this whole voyage of the Pequod, and the great White Whale its object.”
He states more completely and with finality: “There are certain queer times and occasions in this strange and mixed affair we call life when a man takes this whole universe for a vast practical joke, though the wit thereof he but dimly discerns, and more than suspects that the joke is at nobody’s expense but his own. However nothing dispirits, and nothing seems worth while disputing. He bolts down all events, all creeds, and beliefs, and persuasions, all hard things visible and invisible, never mind how knobby; as an ostrich of potent digestion gobbles down bullets and gun flints. And as for small difficulties and worryings, prospects of sudden disaster, peril of life and limb, all these, and death itself, seem to him only sly, good-natured hits, and jolly punches in the side bestowed by the unseen and unaccountable old joker. That odd sort of wayward mood I am speaking of, comes over a man only in some time of extreme tribulation; it comes in the very midst of his earnestness, so that what just before might have seemed to him a thing most momentous, now seems but a part of the general joke. There is nothing like the perils of whaling to breed this free and easy sort of genial, desperado philosophy; and with it I now regarded this whole voyage of the Pequod, and the great White Whale its object.”
Melville continues: I must resign my life into the hands of him who steered the boat—oftentimes a fellow who at that very moment is in his impetuousness upon the point of scuttling the craft with his own frantic stampings . . . taking all things together, I say, I thought I might as well go below and make a rough draft of my will. “Queequeg,” said I, “come along, you shall be my lawyer, executor, and legatee.
After the ceremony was concluded upon the present occasion, I felt all the easier; a stone was rolled away from my heart. Besides, all the days I should now live would be as good as the days that Lazarus lived after his resurrection; a supplementary clean gain of so many months or weeks as the case might be. I survived myself; my death and burial were locked up in my chest. I looked round me tranquilly and contentedly, like a quiet ghost with a clean conscience sitting inside the bars of a snug family vault.”
Once again, describing the crew continuing on their mystical voyage, Melville’s power of description is brilliant: “Few or no words were spoken; and the silent ship, as if manned by painted sailors in wax, day after day tore on through all the swift madness and gladness of the demoniac waves.”
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