20 Dec 2017

A reader’s thoughts on "Moby-Dick"

Nathan Wimer is an avid fan of the book “Moby-Dick” who lives in Pleasanton, CA. The following are his musings on the book:
It’s the sort of book worth reading more than once some years apart, seeing how it reads differently with more life experience in hand.  Picturing how extraordinary a story it must have been for American readers in the 1850’swho knew whaling ships headed out to sea and brought back oil for their lampsto read about such dramatic struggles and conflicts happening on the ocean deep. Cannibals as bunkmates, rough crews, obsessed captains, fierce harpooning from small boats, and the great & terrible white whale itself under the waves.

Some case can be made that it’s one of the prototypical thrillers, building up tension chapter after chapter, our leading character Ishmael hearing secondhand rumblings of the running feud between Ahab and the White Whale. Ahab finally appears in Chapter 28 and the Pequod sails the seas, with Ahab asking all other ships…”Hast seen the White Whale?”  Then as in classic Hitchcock suspense thrillers, or Jaws, or Alien, at long last, the suspense breaks and the monster comes into view in Chapter 133.  How will the hunter and hunted come to blows, how will the implacable feud come to a resolution…
In the middle, there are almost poetic chapters that take a turn before coming back to the plot. Chapter 89 “Fast Fish and Loose Fish” describes the issue of who may claim a whale that has been hunted at great risk and is now floating on the waves. Who may and may not claim the fruit of the work of others, and when.  Then the chapter takes a new direction… Melville breaks the fourth wall and speaks directly to whoever’s reading with him.  He points to parallels for countries and colonies on the world stage and asks the reader to consider how in their own lives they find themselves in some ways fast fish and loose fish, too.
Such a truism that Moby Dick is a classic because it’s stood the test of time, and touches on human issues that are with us today, as much as at the time. People making their way in the world with struggle and friendship…motivations in the human heart that affect the lives of those around them… unintended consequences of long-held grudges. Drama.