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Amid a story of tribulation, beauty, and madness, the reader is introduced to a number of characters, many of whom have names with religious resonance. The Pequod sets sail, and the crew is soon informed that this journey will be unlike their other whaling missions: this time, despite the reluctance of Starbuck, Ahab intends to hunt and kill the beastly Moby Dick no matter the cost.

Ahab and the crew continue their eventful journey and encounter a number of obstacles along the way. Queequeg falls ill, which prompts a coffin to be built in anticipation of the worst. Ahab receives a prophecy from a crew member informing him of his future death, which he ignores.

How Herman Melville′s ′Moby-Dick′ anticipated modernist writing | Books | DW |

Moby Dick is spotted and, over the course of three days, engages violently with Ahab and the Pequod until the whale destroys the ship, killing everyone except Ishmael. The novel consists of chapters, in which narrative and essayistic portions intermingle, as well as an epilogue and front matter. Moby Dick can sustain numerous, if not seemingly infinite , readings generated by multiple interpretative approaches. The very first line of Moby Dick , for instance, identifies Ishmael as the narrator; Ishmael was the illegitimate in terms of the Covenant son of Abraham and was cast away after Isaac was born.

There are a number of other Abrahamic names in the book as well, including Ahab —who, according to the Hebrew Bible , was an evil king who led the Israelites into a life of idolatry. The ship that saves Ishmael, the Rachel , is named for the mother of Joseph , known for interceding to protect her children. It is Rachel, as depicted in the Book of Jeremiah, who convinced God to end the exile placed upon the Jewish tribes for idolatry.

The whale itself is perhaps the most striking symbol in Moby Dick , and interpretations of its meaning range from the Judeo-Christian God to atheism and everything in between.

Melville himself was well versed in whaling , as he had spent some time aboard the Acushnet , a whaling vessel, which gave him firsthand experience. He also did tremendous amounts of research, consulting a number of scientific sources as well as accounts of historical events that he incorporated into Moby Dick. Future of Space Exploration.

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Subversive, queer and terrifyingly relevant: six reasons why Moby-Dick is the novel for our times

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Photos Submit to Our Contest. Photo of the Day. Video Ingenuity Awards. Smithsonian Channel. Moby Dick is about many things, and racism is very much one of those, yet it is rarely discussed as a book about race. And the hue of the skin of the figure was of the perfect whiteness of the snow. He begins with the idea of whiteness as beauty, creating an enormous list of objects and ideas from around the globe that seem to presume that whiteness is related to royalty, power, and goodness—the basic assumption, of course, that white European colonists used to justify dehumanizing black and brown peoples.

Whiteness, then, for all the associations he has mentioned, is frightening at its core. Whiteness has a grave-pallor to it, a signifying of something terrible.

The 100 best novels: No 17 – Moby-Dick by Herman Melville (1851)

Is it that by its indefiniteness it shadows forth the heartless voids and immensities of the universe, and thus stabs us from behind with the thought of annihilation, when beholding the white depths of the milky way? Or is it, that as in essence whiteness is not so much a color as the visible absence of color; and at the same time the concrete of all colors; is it for these reasons that there is such a dumb blankness, full of meaning, in a wide landscape of snows—a colorless, all-color of atheism from which we shrink?

All the world is a chill, meaningless snow—blanketed, perhaps, with the little quilts and fires we invent to give life some sort of meaning, but ultimately worthless in of itself.

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God—man—the world—the sun, the moon, the wilderness of stars—a dream, all a dream; they have no existence. Nothing exists save empty space—and you! In this interpretation, chasing Moby Dick, that avatar of whiteness, means fighting against the meaninglessness of the world, hoping that, through some bloody violence, life-purpose will bloom into existence. Ahab pursues the whale out of a manufactured anger, in a quest to give his life some vague value; without the whale and his ire, Ahab has nothing a depressing view that ignores his wife, amongst other things.

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Nature absolutely paints like the harlot, whose allurements cover nothing but the charnel-house within; and when we proceed further, and consider that the mystical cosmetic which produces every one of her hues, the great principle of light, for ever remains white or colorless in itself, and if operating without medium upon matter, would touch all objects, even tulips and roses, with its own blank tinge…. And of all these things the Albino whale was the symbol.


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  • When, for instance, comparing the material used to make whale-lines—hemp or Manilla—Ishmael imagines each as an ethnic figure.