Tuesday, August 20, 2019

Moby Dick Ch. 8-11: Still about Sin, Repentance, Prejudice, and more on Christianity

A quick update on #MobyDickReadalong – my thoughts of ch. 8 to 11. I am now actually on ch. 15, but just don’t have enough time and energy to work on my journal more than ch. 11. *sigh*

Chapter 8: The Pulpit

My own interpretation on the symbolic meanings of Father Mapple's ship-like pulpit:

The act of withdrawing the ladder (man-ropes) after Father Mapple reached the pulpit:
It symbolizes spiritual withdrawal, or withdrawal from our own will, letting God's will prevail upon us --> in accordance with Father Mapple's sermon in ch. 9.

The pulpit as a "lofty Ehrenbreitstein with a perennial well of water within the walls":
My random research from Wikipedia revealed that Ehrenbreitstein is a fortress built by the Germans on the east bank of Rhine to protect them from France's invasion. However, there's no information about a well ever found within. So I assumed the perennial water symbolizes God's word, which is also "meat and wine of the word". During the War of Coalition in 1798 the France besieged Ehrenbreitstein fortress and brought starvation to its inhabitants, which led it to be handed over to France in 1799. So, when one takes protection within God's word, one would never be hungry or thirsty, because of the "perennial well of waters".

The painting above the pulpit:

It symbolizes relationship between man and God. He never abandons us in the midst of our struggles and dark hours ("a gallant ship beating against a terrible storm..."). All we have to do is to look up, as "there floated a little isle of sunlight, from which beamed forth an angel's face."

Chapter 9: The Sermon

= The powerful sermon by Father Mapple - Simon Callow read it so convincingly at Big Read Podcast, you'd feel like you're listening to the live version!
= Loved the hymn, which is about God's deliverance.
= Jonah's story has never been told so lively and full of emotion like that in this sermon. His sin of disobedience is in accordance with Adam & Eve's original sin (ch. 1).

Favorite quotes:

"And if we obey God, we must disobey ourselves. It is in the disobeying ourselves, wherein the hardness of obeying God consists."
==maybe we, too, need a "withdrawal" (ch. 8) to make it lighter for obeying God.

"In this world, shipmates, sin that pays its way can travel freely, and without a passport; whereas virtue, if a pauper, is stopped at all frontiers."
== again, prejudices! – judging others by outward appearances only.

On Jonah's repentance:
"And here, shipmate, is true and faithful repentance; not clamorous for pardon, but grateful for punishment."
==humility is the key to complete repentance. With humility, God will "with speed He flew to (the sinner's) relief".

Chapter 10: A Bosom Friend

Ishmael was drawn to Queequeg because of his simplicity and honesty. There's no trace of falseness or hypocrisy ==> "Christian kindness has proved but hollow courtesy." It reminded me of the sailors who gathered around breakfast table at The Spouter Inn (ch. 2); there's a hint of hollow courtesy or falseness there. Queequeg is the only human being we have met so far, who was sincere, honest, and trustful, despite of his being a savage. Others (Christians) were mostly greedy (Jonah's Captain), prejudiced (Jonah's crew), and insincere (sailors in the Spouter Inn).

What is worship?
I only half agree with Melville (Ishmael) on this passage about worshipping.
= Is God jealous of "an insignificant bit of black wood"?
   *Yes, if one treats (worship) the wood in place of God.
   * No, if it is a mere symbol.

= Worshipping is not only doing the will of God, but also "love the Lord thy God with all they heart, mind, and soul".

I agree with Ishmael's action of uniting with Queequeg's worship, if it's only meant to be polite, not by heart.

Chapter 11: Nightgown

Grateful vs Comfort
= to enjoy the blissful of warmth, one should be surrounded in cold ==> you can't be perfectly grateful of something, if the thing is abundant - you'd take it for granted (in accordance with ch. 2 - poor Lazarus & the rich man).

Prejudice vs Love
="No man can ever feel his own identity alright except his eyes be closed." ==> again, "do not judge by outward appearances".
When we shut out our senses, we "see" more honestly and truer by heart ==> "See how elastic our stiff prejudices grow when love once comes to bend them." ==> by "closing his eyes", Ishmael consulted his heart, and love conquered his previous prejudices (seeing with eyes).


  1. I haven't been listening to the audio, but I'll check out the sermon read by Cowell. I liked the sermon very much, especially the message that we are not invisible from God bc He is everywhere, even in the belly of a [fish].

    Also agree about Chapter 10. Ishmael made light of worshipping idols. In my margin I wrote: Ishmael convinced himself that contributing to Queequeg's idolatry is the same as loving his neighbor. Obviously, I had to disagree with him in that regard.

  2. I wonder if the well of perennial water is a reference to Amos 5:24 ‘But let justice roll on like waters, and righteousness like a perennial stream.’

    But my knowledge of these themes is only google deep, so I will bow to your judgement here. I’ve never googled a book so much as I was actually reading it before. It’s a slow way to read, but I do feel like I’m digging deep into this story & getting a lot from it. Finding it hard to write blog posts that aren’t about whales as well! I have 3 books to review for #20booksofsummer that I can’t seem to get into at all right now.
    I’ve added this link into the linkup on my blog for you as well.

  3. Thank you, Fanda, for all the religious background. Some seems obvious to me, but you really get into the details I don't know.

    At this early point, Queequeg reminds me of all the people who are good, because that's just who they are. And Ishmael reminds me of me (!) when I sometimes accompany friends to their churches. I get a lot out it and it helps me to understand them better; I respect and learn, but I don't worship. Ishmael looked more like he was assisting as a friend, so I agree that his heart was only in friendship.


What do you think?