Perspective on Religion Herman Melville's Moby-Dick Essay

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Perspective on Religion Herman Melville's Moby-Dick

A cornerstone of the philosophical and narrative substructure of Herman Melville's Moby-Dick is point of view, or perspective. The textually primary point of view in the novel is Ishmael's, since he is the narrator of the story. However, Ishmael relates his story in such a way that one can easily detect numerous other "voices," or other perspectives, in the story, which often oppose the narrator's voice. These other, non-primary perspectives function both to establish Moby-Dick as a novel with numerous points of view and to clarify Ishmael's own particular point of view on certain subjects. For instance, in "The Ramadan" Ishmael attempts to convince Queequeg of the ridiculous and
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Ishmael speaks also, but his voice, perhaps because it is primary and spread throughout the vast, ocean-like novel, often seems the most muted, the least detectable. Yet Ishmael has a clear and distinct perspective on religion that clearly and distinctly differs from the orthodox Christian perspective, from Queegueg's, and from his tragic Captain Ahab's perspective. Making use of the perspectival structure of the text, I aim to contrast Ishmael's unique religious perspective with these other implicit and explicit perspectives set forth in the text, and by this contrasting to ascertain a definite understanding of "Ishmael's religion."

The voice of Christian orthodoxy speaks loudly in Moby-Dick. Before one can consider this voice properly, however, one must understand that Ishrnael is not a Christian in any orthodox sense of the term. Ishmale twice states that, during the time of his sailing on the Pequod, he was a Christian. Early in the novel he says quite plainly, I was a good Christian; born and bred in the bosom of the infallible Presbyterian Church" (57). Later in the novel, he refers to "we good Presbyterian Christians" (84). Carfeul mediation on these passages and others will lead one to the conclusion that Ishmael is being disingenuous when he refers to himself as a "good Christian. ' It is obvious, first of all, that Ishmael is being ironic and sarcastic in the passages quoted above, as the tone and the context of the passages intimate. Note the
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