A day late…this is becoming a trend. But here it is! Moby Dick – Blog #3!
And I actually read a BUNCH this time, so Hooray!
I’m up to Chapter 30, page 114 in my edition. I accomplished this by resorting to my second favorite way of taking in a text: the audiobook. Seeing as my available time to sit and read undisturbed has been reduced this summer to about zero to fifteen minutes per day, I needed to switch things up if I was going to finish any of these books. And man, has this switch helped my page count. I listened while doing dishes! Running! Laundry! Driving! And this explains my drastic increase in pages read…i.e. that any pages were read at all.
I also feel like this is not an invalid way to take in Moby Dick. I know from doing some historical research that popular novels were read aloud in public houses sometimes, seeing as most people couldn’t read. Not that Moby Dick was popular at the time. But still. A large number of people heard books in its day and age rather than read them.
So here are the things I’m noticing:
Melville foreshadows on page 61 Queequeg’s death: “From that hour I clove to Queequeg like a barnacle; yea, till poor Queequeg took his last long dive.” So clearly Ishmael sees Queequeg die—he knows it happens after diving into the ocean. But we readers learn in these pages that more sailors than just Queequeg die. On page 98, Ishmael tells us Bulkington, pilot of the Pequod, dies at sea. I’m not sure if I missed any other references to death, but clearly the Pequod is headed for some bad times—and from reading on Wikipedia, it’s going down before the end. But I wonder why Melville chose to tell us this from the first? The whaling voyage is doomed. Our heroes, save Ishmael, I assume, will die. It’s pretty clear they’re dying at the hands of the titular whale. Melville’s let some of the tension let out of the plot balloon.
I’m guessing his choice in doing this is to whet a different kind of appetite. We know they die and the ship sinks, but what does this say of the whale who sinks such a tough boat and crew? A lot. And I think it also signals that Melville wants to do more here than simply tell a whaling tale. Which is obvious from the insertion after the Pequod leaves Nantucket of several chapters with no plot to them whatsoever.
I admit that it is here that my first attempt to read this book floundered. I’m a plot girl—perhaps you might have guessed this from my books?—and once the narrative fled from plot into philosophy, I lost all momentum. How am I reading on this time?
It helps to be doing it via audiobook, I have to admit. Whereas my mind might have wandered in “The Advocate,” reading over the great benefits of the whaling industry to the world, listening it to it while running, I had no choice but to pay attention. And it was kind of great. He’s really tying whaling to America, and showing America’s dominance of the world through its dominance of whaling. This may not seem like a bold move today, but in 1851, I’m sure this came as kind of a baller move on Melville’s part.
The narrative rejoins the plot with Chapter 28 “Ahab” and we finally meet our queer captain. But then in Chapter 29, the point of view shifts from first person Ishmael to third person omniscient. Why? I have no clue, but Chapters 29 and 30 are not from Ishmael’s point of view—we get soliloquy from Stubbs and Ahab. Did Melville regret the limitations of his first-person narrator? Ishmael at this point in the story would not have been able to give us a scene with Ahab; they do not yet know each other. So to have such a scene, Melville has to switch points of view. But it still bothered me. I listened to the chapters and then had to go back once home and check the text to see if there was some logical explanation. There is not. Maybe in later chapters Melville will clear things up?
And as for the relevance of Moby Dick, check out the cover of The New Yorker! I was going to say, hey, read Moby Dick because then you’ll get this cover, but if you’re reading The New Yorker, you’ve probably at least heard a plot summary of Moby Dick at some point. But still. The book’s relevant. Keep reading…:)
More next week! Happy reading!