Essay about Desire in Herman Melville’s Moby-Dick

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Desire in Herman Melville’s Moby-Dick Moby-Dick describes the metamorphosis of character resulting from the archetypal night sea journey, a harrowing account of a withdrawal and a return. Thus Ishmael, the lone survivor of the Pequod disaster, requires three decades of voracious reading, spiritual meditation, and philosophical reflection before recounting his adventures aboard the ill-fated ship.1 His tale is astounding. With Lewis Mumford’s seminal study Herman Melville: A Critical Biography (1929) marking the advent of the “Melville industry,” attentive readers—amateur and professional alike—have reached consensus respecting the text’s massive and heterogeneous structure. Moby Dick, for all its undeniable heuristic…show more content…
The first portion of the text, which functions as extensive exposition, belongs to Ishmael alone—with no mention of Captain Ahab until several pages into Chapter 16, “The Ship.” Thus, the retrospective unfolding narrative presents Ishmael’s consciousness as first person participatory narrator, who, although unreliable in certain respects, 2 earnestly describes both the material and psychological preparation for his great adventure. Shortly before his departure he is delivered from a life-in-death existence, if not suicide itself, by the 0ther: a dark-skinned, heavily-tattooed, cannibal prince named Queequeg, who later serves as First Mate Starbuck’s harpooner aboard the Pequod. Doubtless, Ishmael’s willingness to withdraw his culturally determined projections and to integrate his shadow self earns him two crucial passages: 1) as crewmember of the doomed Pequod; 2) as designated survivor aboard Queequeg’s life-saving coffin. Thus, Leslie Fiedler’s thesis as outlined in Love & Death in the American Novel is confirmed: the canonical American romantic hero fulfills an adolescent fantasy by escaping ordinary bourgeois responsibilities (job, wife, family) through seeking exotic adventure beyond the ordinary limits of civilization.3 As a moral bonus (in the examples of Natty Bumppo, Huck Finn, and Ishmael) the typical protagonist implicitly attempts to expiate and redeem a terrible sense of historical/social guilt by choosing a non-Caucasian male companion
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