Thursday, May 7, 2020

#MobyDick2ndRead: Ch. 26-31: Arthurian, Shakespearean, Gatsby

Chapter 26: Knights and Squires

Starbuck, the first mate
= Courageous, experienced, intuitive, wise.

= Very brave if needed, and only taking risk after careful calculation.

= Found an interesting analysis on this blog that Starbuck actually represents two figures: Sir Lancelot from the Arthurian legend and Jesus Christ. I think the Christ line is a bit exaggerated, so I'd follow the Arthurian legend, which makes more sense, considering this chapter title.

= I was pondering a lot through the last two paragraphs, and this article enlightened me on some subjects. First: the "valor-ruined man", which means a man with too much courage, who's gone into something foolish.

= This article also mentions the theme of Transcendentalism which is presented in the last paragraph, in Ishmael's soliloquy to "the Spirit of Equality" (=God). So, God here is considered as the center of everything which revolves around Him, and everything is equal to Him. Does this make sense to you? Does transcendentalism place God as our equal? The article also relates this with the Round Table of the Arthurian legend, where everyone round the table is equal. I vaguely understand that in transcendentalism men are equal and independent, and that nature is sacred. But I've thought, by "transcendent", it means that they acknowledge God as their superior, but they just ignore religion practices - or am I just confuse it with Agnostic? Oh.. you got to help me here! :))

Favorite quotes:

"I will have no man in my boat who is not afraid of a whale."

"The most reliable and useful courage was that which arises from the fair estimation of the encountered peril, but that an utterly fearless man is a far more dangerous comrade than a coward."

"This august dignity I treat of, is not the dignity of kings and robes, but that abounding dignity which has no robed investiture."

These three quotes well explained Starbuck character, which I noticed in someone I know - they sometimes seem indecisive in critical moments, but in fact, they are analyzing, weighing facts, past experiences, risks, and results. They might not shining as great men because they don't always rush to fight - at times they'd even withdraw from it - it'a just that they don't want to waste time and energy for only small or moderate results. No, it's not cowardice, I personally call that WISE!

What have Bunyan, Cervantes, and Andrew Jackson got to do with this chapter? Do they represent the "kingly commons" or the trancendentalists?

Chapter 27: Knights and Squires

Stubb, the second mate:
= Careless, take everything easy - even life, which to him is valueless. And he smokes! I can never trust heavy smokers... I believe his indifference (and his pipe.. ) is just his way to counter real fear.

Flask, the third mate:
= Pugnacious and ignorant. He's just what Starbuck refers to with "more dangerous comrade than a coward".

I have made this structure on my first read, so that I don't have to return to this chapter each time I forget who's who.

Melville ended this chapter by pointing out (again) that whaling is a dangerous "life-and-death" occupation, and he alluded to the dark foreshadowing faith of Black Little Pip.

Chapter 28: Ahab

Ahab is the King Arthur of the Pequod.
=Previously enigmatic, now, as Ishmael sees him for the first time, he is "solid, firm, fixed, erect, fearless". 

=He has a whitish mark on his face, which added to the formidable appearance of Ahab. 

=Ishmael's description of his ivory leg, made of sperm whale's jaw bone, and his erect way of standing on deck at night, nailed his charismatic characteristic forever in literature:

"Upon each side of the Pequod's quarter-deck, and pretty close to the mizen shrouds, there was an auger hole, bored about half an inch or so, into the plank. His bone leg steadied on that hole; one arm elevated, and holding by a shroud."

You know, Ahab's erect posture with fixed sight to the darkness in this image reminded me of Jay Gatsby's stretching hand towards the green light. I just realized that Moby Dick is Gatsby's Daisy to Ahab!

Chapter 29: Enter Ahab; to him, Stubb

Here's one of many Shakesperean theme Melville used for Moby Dick. You can't but imagine chapter 29 and 30 in a staged drama.

=Ahab might appear to be strong and sturdy in posture, but fragile and very unstable mentally.

=His considerate decision in not walking through the plank at night to not waking the crews is but a slight glimpse of his original personality, which, but of a passionate revenge, would make him a great captain.

= Stubb is the first to (though still vaguely) realize the deplorable state of Ahab's mental condition - the early stage of manic madness.

"I don't well know whether to go back and strike him, or - what's that? - down here on my knees and pray for him?"

Chapter 30: The Pipe

Ahab's soliloquy is only highlighted his trouble mind, as Stubb has witnessed in the previous chapter.

"The fire hissed in the waves; the same instant the ship shot by the bubble the sinking pipe made" - was like a foreboding sign of what Ahab's mental instability would do towards Pequod.

Chapter 31: Queen Mab

=Another Shakesperean theme - Queen Mab is the queen of the fairies in Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet. "She is referred to as the fairies' midwife, who delivers sleeping men of their innermost wishes in the form of dreams." (Britannica). "Queen Mab and her carriage do not merely symbolize the dreams of sleepers, they also symbolize the power of waking fantasies, daydreams, and desires." (Sparknotes)

=Though the one who is dreaming here is Stubb, the allusion of Queen Mab fits with Ahab's desires (and Jay Gatsby, don't you think?)

=About Ahab's kick, I think Stubb is wrong. A kick is a kick, be it from a living leg or an ivory one. It's the intention that counts. It's just Stubb's denial reasoning. I think he's terrified of Ahab, but, just as in Ishmael's denial despite of Elijah's "prophecy", Stubb, unconsciously, tried to shut off his conscience that keeps pointing to the dark evil surrounding his boss.

And so, here I must end. Ere long, we'll get to the one aspect I didn't enjoy from my first read: the lectures! But, I'll brace myself... :)


  1. Jay Gatsby is an interesting comparison--I hadn't thought about that. I wonder if Fitzgerald had read Moby Dick. He might have!

    1. I think he had, Reese!
      Melville was one of American great authors in the 1920s, anyway.

  2. (I have to make this two comments because I went on TOO LONG.) :P

    From what I've read, Transcendentalists (in America at least) believed that true divinity existed in the soul, not in tradition. To hear God, listen within.

    They felt that too many professing Christians blindly obeyed The Bible (written centuries earlier) and other people's summaries of tradition rather than speaking with God individually and listening to what he had to say to them specifically -- now, today, in this moment. They strongly disagreed with merely obeying tradition written for prior centuries. God could speak to their own era if they listened.

    They saw a manifestation of God in nature, but I have yet to fully understand how. :-)

    I don't think they believed that they were equal to God. That's too elementary a summary. I think they believed that when Jesus died for them, they inherited his divinity. Therefore they became Godlike -- and the evidence of their divinity could be found, not in a book, but within, where God spoke in real time, about issues in their own era, in words written specifically for them. As in, if you seek God, turn to your own soul; he is there.

    Ralph Waldo Emerson was part of the Transcendental Club & a former minister. I believe he never considered himself a Transcendentalist, so I may be reading a bit into his philosophy and conflating it with Transcendentalism. He stopped preaching because he felt that preaching was bullying -- forcing tradition into people's brains rather than teaching them how to think and see. He became a writer in order to make a difference he believed was more useful. Bronson Alcott was a Transcendentalist and believed in living his life exactly as Jesus did -- as in, following his example to a T. Giving, serving, humbly seeking truth. They were both very (very) much about listening to that small voice within and living Christian values rather than merely memorizing rules and obeying. They felt that humanity had a responsibility to make itself felt nobly in the world -- through writing, action, and innovative thinking. They felt that to do good in their world they must engage with the world rather than merely read about it in books written centuries before (the Bible). They found reading and not doing passive. They addressed such problems as inequality, slavery, & the Mexican War, often hiding escaped slaves in their homes, speaking out against gender inequality, and (sometimes) practicing civil disobedience to force change.

    They strongly felt that each new era required its own contextual set of rules, and to rely on the past for the traditions of our own era was poor form indeed. Each new era brought new minds to handle new social problems and required new and active attention. That new voice could be found within, not in a book or in passive adherence to a set of policies written centuries earlier.

  3. So basically, they believed in being awake. Incredibly, usefully awake, in their own era, rather than mindful of dusty rules and otherwise basically uninvested in God. They felt that God was inside them and should be heard, and that he'd invested them with divinity and nobility they had a responsibility to use. They tended to be extremely optimistic of humanity in their philosophy. We can rise up, we can be better, we can be more like God -- that sort of thing. If only we will open our eyes. In short, they believed that they had a duty, responsibility, and inherited honor to b a force for change in the world, and that they had the power to be more than human drones. They were often dismissed as too radical in their own era. Whether they considered themselves equal with God is questionable, but I don't believe they did. I believe rather than they had the potential to be great and divine because they had inherited that through Jesus, and that far too many failed to realize their own potential because they didn't imagine -- they merely obeyed.

    (I think that's a pretty good summary, but again, I'm not an expert on this topic and am hazy on some of what they believed -- for example, what role nature had in their philosophy.)

    I believe (& I literally have no idea why I think this, but it's the bit I gleaned from reading half of Moby-Dick a couple years ago) that Melville had a far more pessimistic view -- as in, God and nature are gigantic and scary and we mortals are naught but fleas in his vicinity, and 'tis no partnership toward greatness, this life. God is big and immense and out to get us unless we obey.

    I think he likely believed in what many believed back then: a more Lutheran philosophy, as in most humans are destined to fall, and there is literally nothing they can do about it because it's all predestined and God calls the shots.

    I've read that Melville's novel may have been a rebuttal to Transcendentalist philosophy. But I'm half-read on both the novel and the works of the Transcendentalists. So take this or toss it. <3

    I have no idea if any of this helps or if I even know what I'm talking about, but it may give you a place to begin your research as you explore. I'd try some Emerson if you're curious: his essays Nature and Self-Reliance are good places to start. x

    I think there is some dispute as to whether Whitman was a Transcendentalist, though he was familiar with the philosophy. In his long poem Leaves of Grass he seems to make humanity central and to see enormous divinity within the human body and its every mundane activity. As in, we humans are beautiful and lovely and potentially glorious.

    But I believe this isn't because Transcendentalists were agnostic, so much as because they couldn't believe children of God would be anything but glorious because he created them. If we'd only listen to God within our own souls, where he'd been all along, and act on what we knew was right, we could make heaven on earth. It was in denying our own potential and shrinking ourselves under fear that we became undivine.

    1. Thanks a lot, Jillian, for your thorough explanation of Transcendentalism. It helps me a lot!

      About finding God through Nature, I think, it's because nature is God's direct creation - as opposed to man's creation. When one connects with the nature, one can (possibly) feel God's presence. Touching a flower, for example, means that one touch something that is made by God Himself. Or at least, one would be reminded of God's omnipotence while admiring the nature.

      I'm no good of explaining things like this, so hopefully it helps. :)

    2. Oh, that makes sense! Thanks! :D

  4. Thankfully Jillian has given you a comprehensive definition of Transcendentalism above. I also wrote a post trying to get all the isms straight in my head here
    I used wikipedia for the definitions: Gnosticism:
    is a modern name for a variety of ancient religious ideas and systems, originating in Hellenistic Judaism and the Jewish Christian milieux in the first and second century AD. Many of these systems believed that the material world is created by an emanation or 'works' of a lower god (demiurge), trapping the divine spark within the human body. This divine spark could be liberated by gnosis, spiritual knowledge acquired through direct experience. Gnosticism is not a single system, and the emphasis on direct experience allows for a wide variety of teachings.
    Scholars debate Gnosticism's origins as having roots in Neoplatonism and Buddhism, due to similarities in beliefs, but ultimately, its origins are currently unknown. As Christianity developed and became more popular, so did Gnosticism....until the proto-orthodox Christian communities expelled the group in the second and third centuries (C.E.).
    is the view that the existence of God, of the divine or the supernatural is unknown or unknowable. Another definition provided is the view that "human reason is incapable of providing sufficient rational grounds to justify either the belief that God exists or the belief that God does not exist."
    The belief that the physical universe is equivalent to god, and that there is no division between a Creator and the substance of its creation.
    is, in the broadest sense, an absence of belief in the existence of deities. Less broadly, atheism is a rejection of the belief that any deities exist. In an even narrower sense, atheism is specifically the position that there are no deities. Atheism is contrasted with theism, which, in its most general form, is the belief that at least one deity exists.
    is opposition to religion of any kind. It involves opposition to organized religion, religious practices or religious institutions. The term anti-religion has also been used to describe opposition to specific forms of supernatural worship or practice, whether organized or not.
    Secular Humanism:
    is a philosophy or life stance that embraces human reason, secular ethics, and philosophical naturalism while specifically rejecting religious dogma, supernaturalism, and superstition as the basis of morality and decision making.

    1. Yeah, I just realized - after Transcendentalism and Gnotism - that Moby Dick might have been a journey to find God, after all. :)


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