Well… wow… well…
I just want to say first off, that Moby Dick is a book I’ve been trying to finish for “well” over a month. This is not going to be a full review of the book or the theme or the subject of Cetology or what I’d call “Cetacide” in the 19th century Atlantic and Pacific oceans. After 462 pages of whales, whaling, crusty and dusty old mariners and sea dogs, I’m tired. “I just… Can’t”, as the kids say these days.
I was warned, every bit as much and nearly as incessantly and vociferously as Starbuck warned the Captain of the Peaquod, that should I up anchor on this classic by Herman Melville, I’d better be prepared to learn all there is to know about whales, their biology, their habitat and ranging habits, and life on board a whaling ship in the mid-1800’s… All before even getting to the famous scenes of battle and confrontation between man and the “White Whale” whose name marks the front cover as well as the minds and hearts of English Majors and readers everywhere.
Many a reader has attempted the voyage with Ahab and his crew only to be worsted by waves and wind, only to be crushed against the rocks and “shoals” of detailed writing and centuries of pages in set up and background. I understand why Melville did it. He wants to immerse you, baptize you, “Ensoul” you as it were in, if it be possible, into the world of Whales and Whaling. He wants to OJT Train you as a “ship mate” of the crew over the course of the vast majority of the book so you understand as he does, as Ishamel does, the business that you have given both your consent and “signature” when you agreed to this adventure.
Moby Dick is first and foremost a story of heartache, loss, bitterness, frustration and misplaced anger and vengeance. The Whale has been anthropomorphized by The Captain as the reason for his own personal losses, not only of his leg, which was easily replaced with a stump fashioned of whale bone, but I think the loss of his youth and vigor at such a late stage in his life. Though only 58yrs old in the story, for a whaler and a captain of a whaling ship in the period, his whole life would have been spent on open seas, away from land, away from any hopes of “normal” family life… for years at a time, with only the briefest of interludes of “Home”.
Though later in the book, during a talk with his First Mate Starbuck, we learn that both men have wives and at least one child, back in Nantucket, we get the impression that Ahab’s is a younger wife and his child is one “of his old age” as was Benjamin in the Old Testament story. Both are growing up without him, as he is aging and he perhaps feels his life is coming closer to a close without them.
The original “Midlife Crisis” story? You be the judge. However, he is older and so much has happened to him that I think he would look for a scapegoat to pin all of his “sins” and consequences of his sins on. Thus, his “monomaniacal” focus and determination to kill the Whale that took one of his “sea legs” away.
Starbuck was the calm second in command/XO who from the first of story to the last bitter and tragic sinking of the ship and all thereon was warning, threatening, imploring, even begging Ahab to desist his delirious and ultimately disasterous hunt. Yet, he never did what I thought he should have, mutiny and turn the ship around. Though late in the book is vignetted his self-talk of perhaps saving the whole ship and crew by shooting his Commander in the head with his own pistol.
All in all, Moby Dick was an enjoyable, yet very difficult and dense read. I can see why it’s a classic held is such high regard since its publication in the 1850s. It’s definitely on my “Recommended” list as a Bucket List Read.