Type: Literary Analysis
Pages: 4 | Words: 1013
Reading Time: 5 Minutes

Some readers have situated Melvin’s Moby Dick under “sea romances” while others look at the story of a factual story full of sadness and ridicule. Indeed, the story does not perfectly fit into any of the two categories. It contains enormous amount of fictional material as well as historical facts, thereby making it difficult to ideally classify as either romance or novel. For instance, certain elements of romantic writing styles clearly appear in the character of Ishmael. Although the narrative intends to imply that he is a participant in the story, the choice of Ishmael as a character betrays this assertion.

In the Bible, the name Ishmael is popularly used to mean an “outcast” or a “wonderer”. According to symbolic appellation, the word “outcast” gives a connotation of a commentator rather than a participant. This none-correspondence of his roles with literary expectations from his name ideally makes him an unusual narrator. In fact, it was only at the shore that he played an active role. In all the other places, he appears as a commentator, giving his opinions on almost every matter. In addition, he plays the role of a commentator when appears to be informing the readers concerning the practice of whaling. These are not typical of a character who participates in a story.

The appearance of Ishmael as one who can foresee the future denies the story the legitimacy of being factual. Ishmael is portrayed as one who can tell almost everything that is going to happen throughout the story long before they happen. For instance, he shows he is not contented about the voyage when he initially met Prophet Elijah at the shores. According to him, this adventure was going to be vague and not completely comprehendible. In his opinion, they were only going for the voyage adventure because they had committed themselves to it. Otherwise, it was not worth the sacrifice considering that there were thousands of things that they did not really understand about the voyage (Melville 88). When they first lower, Ishmael seems to have sensed danger and goes to the extent of terming the voyage a “practical joke” with their lives. He did not believe that the search for the White Whale was going to be productive. These occurrences portray Ishmael as one who could foresee the future, although he never acted to bend the arc of literature of the story. Towards the end of the story, Ishmael again foresaw the tragic death of the entire crew on voyage. Indeed, his earlier predictions come to pass when death finally snatches the souls of the entire crew and they have nothing to celebrate about their search for the White Whale. Ishmael goes ahead to compare the voyage to a boat that is driven to unfamiliar lands by a strong wind. Although the boat knows that it is going to hit the rocks, it cannot reverse its fate by stopping to sail. These acts of foreshadowing the future reinstate the position of Ishmael as a creation of the narrator’s thoughts, and not a real participant in the story.

The inconsistence of the character of Ishmael emerges when he appears to live in two different worlds in the same story. Although the narrator intended to portray him as an ordinary worker who honestly served in the Pequod, his later appearance as an omnipresent being betrays the whole trick. There was no way an ordinary man could have the ability to see and understand everything that happened to all characters all the time, whether he was with them or away from them. In this regard, readers can sufficiently argue that Ishmael was just but a shadow character, a creation of the narrator’s mind, in categorizing the story as a romance. Indeed, Ishmael displays extraordinary behavior when he shows the rare ability to read the minds of all his colleagues in the voyage. Typically, even the best of psychologists or spymasters cannot read other people’s thoughts like Ishmael did. Essentially, he assumes the omniscient character of a novelist and combines it with a fictional character who knows beyond what ordinary humans can possibly know. In fact, he constantly confuses the two characters to the extent that it becomes obvious to the character that his personality cannot be true. For instance, he appears to see right through Starbuck’s heart when he begins to narrate what was going on in Starbuck’s mind. According to him, Starbuck was consumed in evil thoughts the moment he set his eyes on the muskets. These are basically Melville’s ideas of trying to make the story more interesting and appealing to the reader. He probably believes that by giving Ishmael a voice of a narrator as well as the zeal of a participant would draw the readers’ attention more to the storyline.

Ishmael has a unique character that greatly differs from that of other character found in any factual stories. Thus, a reader would not be mistaken for suggesting that Ishmael was a creature who only existed in Melville’s mind. For instance, there are a times when he appears to speak directly to the readers, always sounding an alarm about an impending danger. The manner in which he describes the anatomy of the whale portrays as all knowing, because he knows which bones exist in every part of the whale’s body and can account for each. Thus, he appears to combine characters of a marine creature and those of an ordinary human. Nonetheless, there are several he portrays the ideal characters of a wise human. For instance, he compares life to the velvet paws of a tiger that unfortunately conceal its ruthless fangs. This particular instance reveal his human character, thus leaving the reader more confused on whether Ishmael was a true character or a creation of Melville’s mind.

In conclusion, it is almost impossible to categorize the story of Moby Dick as either a romance or a novel. The book contains scenes that are rich in romantic literary styles as much as those with characters of a novel. It is the reason it remains uncategorized into any of the two literary categories.

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