The Narrative of Herman Melville's Moby Dick.

by Gavin Luhrs.


Chapter One: 'The half known life.'
Chapter Two: 'I try all things.'
Chapter Three: 'Will any whale man believe these stories?'
Chapter Four: A 'cunning duplicate in mind.'
Conclusion: 'Failure is the true test of greatness.'


The dissertation focuses upon the narrative of the novel, a recognition of my belief that far from being incidental it is as rich a subject for study as the meaning of Moby Dick, or the character of Captain Ahab. This richness is created by a number of elements: the range of styles adopted throughout the novel; and the psychology of Ishmael, revealed through the narration, are two such primary factors in the decision to concentrate on how the novel tells the story, rather than the story itself.

Also included is a study of the utilisation of shifting perspectives within the narrative, and an analysis of the effects that this produces. Shifting perspectives are manifest in various forms: one, for example, is a shift from Ishmael's first-person narration to a second-person narrative, as can be observed in Chapter III 'The Spouter Inn'; another can be found in the sequence of short chapters CXX - CXXII, in which the point of view of a number of key characters, other than Ishmael, is given, without any comment from the narrator.

The dissertation also investigates the role and effects of factual passages, such as Chapter XXXII 'Cetology', and fantastical passages. This study considers why Ishmael undermines much of his work with obscure, dubious authorities and superstition. Also, the possible reasons for the inclusion of so much technical material - the so-called 'Cetological Centre'[1]- are scrutinised.

A further element considered in terms of the narrative is the extent to which it would be accurate to label the novel an 'epic'[2], as is widely assumed to be correct. Epics are often an embodiment of the ideals and characteristics of the nation and time in which they are written. Using this definition, the dissertation considers the validity of the novel as an 'American' epic of the mid nineteenth century. Also, if the novel is to be considered an 'epic', the question of why Melville dismisses the form of it as an 'imperfect body'[3] is addressed.

Chapter One:
'The half known life.'
(p. 284, Herman Melville Moby Dick.)

The perception that Ishmael is a largely inactive character in Moby Dick should not deceive the reader into under-estimating his value both as a narrator and a character: 'Ishmael is not simply a narrative device for recording what happens in Moby Dick: he is a character . . . no less important than Ahab.'[4] His close involvement allows subjective interest in the narrative, and yet his detachment offers distance, which enables the reader to make a more informed consideration of the story than if Ahab were to offer his own account. In terms of his function, Ishmael is the narrative; his character shapes and has autonomy over it. As Vincent says: 'Ishmael is the chorus character whose commentary elucidates and whose person enfolds the entire work. . . [he] is narrator, but he is also prologue and epilogue.'[5] Thus the narrative, although professing to study Ahab in his hunt for Moby Dick, is a rich study of Ishmael's character. As Lee suggests, the story of Ahab is not the only intended focus of the narrative:

Before we can allow the Pequod to enter our readerly imaginations as a species of Flying Dutchman, a mythy world-ship launched as in a dream after world-truths, we need Melville's reminder . . . that this journey out is indeed the 'WHALING VOYAGE BY ONE ISHMAEL' promised in Chapter I . . . the tale [is a] necessary frame of Moby Dick's larger concerns.[6]

This 'voyage' of Ishmael's could be taken to literally mean his voyage on the Pequod or, as has been suggested, the voyage he embarks upon afterwards, into his memory, in order to create the narrative of Moby Dick: 'No sooner is one voyage ended, than another, equally unpredictable, begins.'[7]

From the opening of the novel, Ishmael is a figure of isolation, an orphan: 'Throughout Moby Dick Melville progressively develops the theme of the isolated individual . . . [his] theme is distilled in the opening words, “Call me Ishmael.”'[8] According to Porter: 'By actively choosing the name of an outcast, Ishmael emphasises his exiled stance.'[9] This feeling of isolation could spring from the fact that Ishmael is the only survivor of the Pequod's confrontation with Moby Dick, whilst it is also likely that he naturally inclines towards a preference for his own company. He is the 'quiet Ishmael'[10] who regularly displays detached, voyeuristic tendencies, as in 'The Spouter Inn': 'Knowing not what else to do with myself, I resolved to spend the rest of the evening as a looker on.'[11] Ishmael generally conducts himself with modesty and he makes no grand claims for himself. He says in 'The Praire': 'I achieve what I can,' (p. 354) and considers himself to be 'less celestial' (p. 384) than other poets. This is what Porter describes as his 'characteristic humility', as can be seen in 'Cetology' which he begins by 'avowing his inability to perform the task before him.'[12] The introspective Ishmael also displays emotional instability, revealed in his constant mood swings:

Ishmael'sgaiety and high spirits are matched by an equally pronounced tendency to depression and gloom: his initial determination to go to sea arises from a mood of almost suicidal despair.[13]

Ishmael acknowledges the shifting nature of his spirits, characteristically drawing an analogy with the sea in 'The Grand Armada': 'Amid the tornadoed Atlantic of my being. . . deep down and deep inland there I still bathe me in eternal mildness of joy,' (p. 399). This double edged characteristic is partly engendered by the perilous situation onboard whaling ships. Ishmael observes in 'The Hyena': 'There is nothing like the perils of whaling to breed this free and easy sort of genial, desperado philosophy,' (p. 233). The juxtaposition of 'genial' and 'desperado' goes some way to reveal the inconsistencies which characterise Ishmael's personality. The character traits outlined result in what has been called 'intensity' in Ishmael, which is similar, although not precisely the same, as Ahab's intensity: '[Ahab has] an intensity leading towards self-destruction and . . . [Ishmael has] an intensity leading towards self-creation.'[14]

Ishmael's personality is not only contradictory, but his character is also difficult to isolate as to its symbolic qualities: 'Melville leaves it ambiguous as to whether [Ishmael] survives because of his superior virtue. . . Ishmael's peculiar narrative function itself makes the meaning of his survival uncertain.'[15] Part of the problem is his close relationship to the narrative; it is often difficult to distinguish whether he is creating a scene, or the scene is creating the narrative:

At the level of voice Ishmael has a remarkable habit of catching a style from the situation. . . discoursing on the whale's magnitude in 'The Fossil Whale' his language itself becomes full of 'portly terms': “Fain am I to stagger this emprise under the weightiest words of the dictionary” (p. 465).[16]

McIntosh calls him a 'chameleon of a narrator'[17] which hints at his great fluidity. Given this control over the narrative, and the counteraction of it by the scenes being recounted, Ishmael's character becomes allusive and only capable of partial revelation. Ultimately, any study of the narrative and the narrator must be conducted cautiously, and is made more problematical by his tendency to fabrication: 'Initially embarrassed by poverty, Ishmael disclaims any desire to be a passenger. . . as if lack of money were a minor issue in his decision.'[18] This is just one early instance where what Ishmael suggests in his narrative should not always be taken at face value.

The above statements on Ishmael's character hide his essential humanity and charity. Way speaks of his 'intelligence, the fineness of his sensibilities, and the depth of his humanity.'[19] He is, according to Way, a model for others: 'Ishmael is the ideal democratic man. . . unprejudiced and alert, prepared to rub shoulders with any person, fact or idea.'[20] He is equally capable of criticising Christians and cannibals. For instance, Captain Bildad is comically treated in his dogmatic expounding of his faith when Ishmael and Queequeg go to sign up to the Pequod's voyage. This comedy displays Ishmael's empathy with cannibals: 'I myself am a savage owning no allegiance but to the King of the Cannibals; and ready at any moment to rebel against him,' (p. 279). Conversely, however, he manipulates traditional Christian views of the time which linked blacks and the devil, as in 'The Candles' chapter, in which Daggoo, Tashtego and Queequeg become transformed: 'Queequeg's tattooing burned like Satanic blue flames on his body,' (p. 513). Once again this demonstrates Ishmael's, and the narrative's, tendency to switch sympathies whenever it appears necessary.

The narrative offers a new moral perspective, and in doing so reveals much of the hypocrisy of the New England Christians. This enlightenment is demonstrated in 'The Whale as a Dish':

Go to the meat-market of a Saturday night and see the crowds of live bipeds staring up at the long rows of dead quadrupeds. Does not that sight take a tooth out of the cannibal's jaw? Cannibals? who is not a cannibal? (p. 309).

Ishmael also proposes many reforms in his narrative, particularly on the issue of whaling. Frequently he sees fit to address the ship owners directly, as in 'The Mast Head': 'Let me in this place movingly admonish you, ye ship-owners of Nantucket!' (p. 161). One example of his proposed reforms for the good of the ordinary sailor is the 'Monkey Rope'. Although a small detail, it illustrates Ishmael's concern for others and his wish for a safer world. Ishmael also feels it necessary to warn the reader against what he sees as complacency with regard to oppression:

What are the Rights of Man and the Liberties of the World but Loose-Fish? What all men's minds and opinions but Loose-Fish? What are you, reader, but a Loose-Fish and a Fast-Fish too? (p. 409).

He also supports the socially lower classes, through tacit allegiance in the narrative, as in 'Stubb's Supper', when he backs up Fleece the cook's condemnation of Stubb for his behaviour towards him:

'Wish by gor! whale eat him, 'stead of him eat whale. I'm bressed if he ain't more of a shark dan Massa Shark hisself,' muttered the old man, limping away; with which sage ejaculation he went to his hammock (p. 307).[21]

His moral thrust, however, is arguably more theoretical than actual. In 'The Ramadan' he is vehement in his condemnation of monomania, in this instance towards religion:

When a man's religion becomes really frantic. . . and. . . makes this earth of ours an uncomfortable inn to lodge in, then I think it high time to take that individual aside and argue the point with him (p. 89).

And yet, when on the Pequod Ishmael never confronted Ahab on this issue, another example of the disparity between the narrative and truth.

In his narration of the novel, Ishmael is sometimes susceptible to the lures of poetry. For example, in the second sentence of 'The Spirit-Spout' 's'-sounds are profuse, evocative of the mystery and menace of the phantom:

. . .when all the waves rolled by like scrolls of silver; and, by their soft, suffusing seethings, made what seemed a silvery silence, not a solitude: on such a silent night a silvery jet was seen. . . (p. 237).

At times the conceits he uses are equally affected as is his language. The parting sight of the Rachel is one such instance:

But by her still halting course and winding, woful way, you plainly saw that this ship that so wept with spray, still remained without comfort. She was Rachel, weeping for her children because they were not (p. 539).

The altered grammar of the last line is a poetic affectation, intended to help in the creation of rhyme: 'way' and 'spray', 'comfort' and 'not'. In the narrative, Ishmael can be seen to be recreating the feeling of medieval romance: 'Melville looks through the whaling cruise in such away as to see its 'secret part' (p. 248) the romance action of the dragon-slayer's quest.'[22] According to Brodhead, Ishmael inhabits a 'wonder-world',[23] which would fit in with his romantic treatment of the narrative. This can be seen in the opening paragraph of 'Enter Ahab; to him, Stubb': '. . . The starred and stately nights seemed haughty dames in jewelled velvet, nursing at home in lonely pride, the memory of their absent conquering Earls, the golden helmeted suns!' (p. 127). Part of Ishmael's role is to ensure the romance of whaling is present in the narrative, counteracting the bleak Ahab, and adding a mythical element to the tale.[24] His ability to reveal the romance of the situation is a testament to his great reverence for the art of whaling, as well as to his poetic abilities.

Ishmael, it soon becomes clear to the reader, is a keen scholar, who thrives on facts and information, especially those related to whaling. As Brodhead points out, the enquiring mind of Ishmael is what characterises the narrative:

[The novel's] hugeness is achieved finally less through the length of its inventory than through the sheer variety of . . . mental stances, sciences and languages through which [Ishmael] tries to grasp things. In a sense the most characteristic sentence in Moby Dick is Ishmael's “I have another idea for you.”[25]

The narrative is a scholarly study of the Pequod's voyage in particular and whaling in general, making it distinct from traditional adventure stories of this kind. At this point I am going to discuss Ishmael's character as revealed by his studies, rather than his use of the gathered material, which is explored in Chapter Three.

The writing of Moby Dick, and more importantly the prolonged study that leads to it, is a means for Ishmael to come to terms with the events of the Pequod's voyage:

[The novel is] a suspenseful and linear story that leads towards a completion in Ahab's encounter with the white whale and a jerky, digressive, constitutionally incomplete narrative that traces Ishmael's efforts to get to know the whale.[26]

By extension it could be said 'to get to know himself as well'. Vincent has called Ishmael's own mental voyage 'the quest of the human heart for its spiritual and psychological home,'[27] which supports the view that the novel has a dual focus - on Ahab's revengeful voyage for Moby Dick, and on Ishmael's scholarly voyage for answers, as stated above (p. 6). Making sense of the events which befell the Pequod is imperative to Ishmael, who has made whaling the formative spring of his life: 'a whale-ship was my Yale College and my Harvard,' (p. 114). There are several hints in the narrative that Ishmael has been attempting a therapy of sorts for many years, which reaches its climax in the writing of Moby Dick. 'The Town-Ho's Story' reveals that the subject has preoccupied him for many years. He explains before recounting the tale: 'I shall preserve the style in which I once narrated it at Lima, to a loving circle of my Spanish friends,' (p. 249). An interruption in his story telling at the Golden Inn comes in the form of questions about Moby Dick. Ishmael's reaction reveals the extent to which past events torture him:

"Nay, Dons, Dons - nay, nay! I cannot rehearse that now. Let me get more into the air, Sirs."

"The chicha! the chicha!" cried Don Pedro; "our vigorous friend looks faint; - fill up his empty glass!" (p. 266).

The disturbing effect of Moby Dick on Ishmael perhaps explains his often cautionary statements about whales, even the study of them: '[Because of the risks] it seems to me you had best not be too fastidious in you curiosity touching this Leviathan,' (p. 275). Ishmael also hints that his own participation in the hunt for Moby Dick was a form of Satanic seduction, damaging to his soul: 'Give not thyself up . . . to fire, lest it invert thee, deaden thee; as for a time it did me,' (p. 435-6). Thus the narrative is in some respects Ishmael's quest for redemption.

Ishmael is a thorough scholar, and has been for some time. He speaks of 'all my researches' (p. 156) as if they were his life's work. He says in 'The Decanter': 'Nor have I been at all sparing of historical whale research, when it has seemed needed,' (p. 455). He is also a very determined scholar, which is understandable as his emotional well-being depends upon his enquiries. 'To analyse it would seem impossible . . Let us try,' (p. 196). This refusal to be prevented in his quest is characteristic of Ishmael. It is in his favour that he has a naturally enquiring mind, given the scope of the task. A scene from 'The Try-Works' demonstrates his ability to make academic profit from every situation:

It was in the left hand try-pot of the Pequod, with the soapstone diligently circling around me, that I was . . . struck by the remarkable fact, that in geometry all bodies gliding along the cycloid. . . will descend from any point in precisely the same time (p. 432).

Scholars have validated the authenticity of Ishmael's efforts: 'Considering the limited research then completed, Moby Dick is accurate.'[28] This commendation is not restricted to the factual content, but also to its use, indicating that the narrative is a fine example of Ishmael's scholarly endeavours: 'Nowhere is there waste in Moby Dick; every concrete detail serves a double and triple purpose.'[29] Ishmael is adaptable in his studies, seeking information from a variety of sources. These include: stories by other sailors (p. 31); works by sailors and scholars like Captain Scoresby, Surgeon Beale, Cuvier, Hunter, Lesson, (p. 134-5) Pliny Purchas, Colnett, Huggins and Garnery (p. 275-6); and his own diligent observations (p. 202).[30] He does not, however, simply reproduce the work of others, but attempts to further study in the field of whales and whaling. His explanation of technical terms previously undefined, such as 'Gam' (p. 247), 'Gurry' and 'Nippers' (p. 429) are examples of the often pioneering nature of his efforts. As one critic says, 'Moby Dick provides a kind of glossary of words originating from or peculiar to the New England whaling industry.'[31]

There is evidence in the narrative that Ishmael occasionally becomes adversely affected by over-indulgence in his numerous 'fish-documents' (p. 453). Statements like the one in 'The Line', 'sundry mystifications too tedious to detail' (p. 289), are extremely rare. For instance, he discusses the crow's nest on Captain Sleet's ship in 'The Mast-Head' (p. 159), a long-winded method of describing what that Pequod does not look like. Also, the mention of the whale-skin bookmarks used in his studies (p. 314) further underlines the extent to which his whole life is geared towards the writing of Moby Dick. Given his devotion to the subject, Ishmael is bound to be susceptible to accusations of over-indulgence, although this is not necessarily a legitimate focus for criticism. Were it not for his enthusiasm the narrative would not have been written, a zeal which is often delightful to observe, for instance, in the whale scholars' joke about how to treat dyspepsia in whales (p. 420), or the division of whale types according to the traditional categories of manuscript in 'Cetology', which Lee describes as 'sea-creatures expressed as textual hierarchy.'[32] Ward comments, '[the] humour saves the whaling passages from the dullness of a scientific treatise', citing the example of Ishmael asking for 'Vesuvius' crater for an inkstand.'[33]

The opening of Moby Dick - the 'Etymology' and 'Extracts' sections - immediately encourages a close link between the narrator and the reader:

[These initial passages] invite the reader . . . to confront Moby Dick as co-creator with the author, to become an accomplice in the telling of the tale and the working out of the meaning of the journey to be told.[34]

Ishmael's manner towards the reader is largely genial, offering comradeship and encouraging empathy. In 'Loomings' casual forms of address, such as 'True, they rather,' and 'Who ain't a slave? Tell me that,' (p. 4) create a feeling of the story being narrated directly to the reader. This is rather evocative of the situation at the 'Golden Inn' in Lima, when Ishmael recounts the Town-Ho's story to a group of friends. One device used to give the feeling of the narrative being orally delivered is Ishmael's mention of the exact time that he is discoursing in 'The Fountain' (p. 379), which brings the past to a point of immediacy for the reader. Also, in 'Ahab's Leg' he says, 'Unwittingly here a secret has been divulged,' (p. 475) a comment which implies that once delivered his words cannot be taken back, a limitation of oral rather than written communication. The intimate tone of the novel is also backed up by the childhood memories shared in 'The Counterpane': 'My sensations were strange. Let me try to explain them. When I was a child. . . '(p. 26). Although such instances are rare, they do help to develop trust and friendship between the narrator and the reader, something which is perpetuated through the use of such phrases as 'my friend' (p. 318) to address the reader in the midst of the narrative. In keeping with this close relationship, Ishmael encourages the reader's complicity. One way he does this is to pose semi-rhetorical questions: 'Each of Ishmael's questions serves to provoke, to invite participation.'[35] Also, when he is telling the Town-Ho's story, he informs his Spanish friends that Moby Dick's history 'would be too long a story' (p. 265) to go into at that time. This is a friendly nudge towards the reader, who is reading the story not given to the Spaniards on that occasion. This complicity is strengthened by Ishmael's addressing of the reader as if illustrating his point with a visual aid: 'Here, now, are two great whales, laying their heads together; let us join them, and lay together our own;' (p. 337) 'Crossing the deck, let us now have a good long look at the Right Whale's head,' (p. 341). This placing of the reader into the narrative is welcoming, showing Ishmael's eagerness to be a helpful narrator. Lee suggests he creates the impression that he and the reader are on a joint quest: 'Ishmael tries to bind himself to the reader. Narrator and reader become paired travellers, kinsmen in imagination.'[36] This friendly, welcoming tone is not, however, without ulterior motive; the reader is quickly brought to a feeling of sympathy for Ishmael, and thus is more inclined to believe what he says.

As expected from this 'man of contraries',[37] there is another side to Ishmael's nature. Occasionally he is authoritative, confident, it would appear, in his power over the reader: 'Call me Ishmael. A few years ago - never mind how long precisely. . .' (p. 1). Here he is in control, allowing the reader no option but to comply. He is also morally instructive, and although his is largely friendly advice, it does have the quality of a command rather than guidance: 'Oh, man! admire and model thyself after the whale! . . retain, O, man! in all seasons a temperature of thine own,' (p. 316). Despite being advice on resisting bad influences, such as the one that befell him in the form of Captain Ahab, there is something Biblical in the imperative nature of the exhortations. Also, this guidance is often coupled with accusations, for instance, when Ishmael calls for restraint in the use of oil: 'For God's sake, be economical with your lamps and candles! not a gallon you burn, but at least one drop of man's blood was spilt for it,' (p. 210). By implicating the reader in bloodshed, Ishmael is moving away from his geniality in other parts of the novel. His warnings occasionally intensify, becoming suffused with a perception of his own superiority: 'Yea foolish mortals, Noah's flood is not yet subsided; two thirds of the fair world it yet covers,' (p. 283). This is judgmental on Ishmael's part, implying that the reader is ignorant of the danger he is in. It is when he assumes such a religious tone (very similar to that of Ahab) that Ishmael becomes sanctimonious and critical of the reader. On other occasions he goes a stage further, and rather than adopting a morally superior tone for the benefit of the reader, simply dismisses him. This condescension is evident when he mocks the reader for not realising the magnetic power of water: 'Were Niagara but a cataract of sand, would you travel your thousand miles to see it?' (p. 3). These two opposing dimensions to Ishmael's conduct as narrator is another illustration of the way in which his contradictory character shapes the narrative, shifting tone as often as he does his mood.

Chapter 2:
'I try all things.'
(p. 354, Herman Melville Moby Dick.)

The use of different narrative styles, other than the first-person account in the opening chapter of Moby Dick, is at times striking. An early example of this divergence from the first-person form is the presentation of 'The Spouter Inn', in which the reader is thrust into the narrative through the use of the second person style. This reader orientated method is used to describe the interior of the Inn, and to focus the narrative on the mysterious painting mounted on the wall. It is adopted in order to establish in the reader's mind an empathy with Ishmael's perceptions. In 'The Chart' Ishmael commences: 'Had you followed Captain Ahab down into his cabin. . . you would have seen him go into a locker.'[38] This is a means of demonstrating not only how Ishmael is aware of this scene, but also, how easy it would be for anyone to observe it. By using the second-person form he transfers experience to the reader, establishing the scenes as potentially universally true, and not simply springing from his imagination. Another means of placing the reader into the text is the use of questions, as if anticipating such enquiries concerning the source of his knowledge, for example. 'But how now, Ishmael? How is it, that you, a mere oarsman in the fishery, pretend to know aught about the subterranean parts of the whale?. . . Explain thyself, Ishmael,' (p. 458). He also manipulates the reader's voice, attributing to him statements which are comically daring: 'A veritable witness you have hitherto been, Ishmael,' (p. 458). By Chapter 102, even the most casual of readers must have noticed that Ishmael's narrative is frequently far from 'veritable'. This device is a further means of humorous, friendly interaction with the reader, as discussed above (p. 15).

A significant feature of the narrative's inconsistency is the reporting of episodes which do not appear to have been witnessed by Ishmael. Sitney observes: 'Ishmael suddenly begins [once the Pequod has left harbour] to ventriloquise conversations and monologues to which the circumscribed narrator of the book's initial chapters would have had no access.'[39] He recounts mutinous soliloquies such as Starbuck's in 'The Musket', when he contemplates shooting Ahab in order to save the crew from his dangerous monomania:

'And would I be a murderer, then, if' - and slowly, stealthily, and half sideways looking, he placed the loaded musket's end against the door.

'On this level Ahab's hammock swings within; his head this way,' (p. 522).

Brodtkorb discusses 'the authoritative reporting of unknowable or imaginary events.'[40] In most cases, however, an explanation is not only feasible, but offered, if belatedly or indirectly at times. For Ishmael to have overheard soliloquies is not so hard to believe, given the restricted area of the ship's deck. When Ahab is standing before the doubloon Ishmael says that the Captain was 'not unobserved by others,' (p. 441). Even if Ishmael himself does not hear everything, presumably the sailors talk to each other, given the lack of diverting pastimes when not working; what is more natural a subject for discussion than the mutterings of a seemingly mad Captain and his troubled officers? Another, more whimsical, example of Ishmael's reporting of events he does not appear to have been a part of is Flask having no butter in 'The Cabin-Table'. Such scenes from the privacy of the cabin can similarly be explained: Ishmael makes clear on several occasions his tendency of spying into it, such as when he says it is possible to 'get a peep at Flask through the cabin sky-light, sitting silly and dumbfoundered before awful Ahab,' (p. 153). Ahab himself admits to feelings of being observed, another comical acknowledgement of the reader who is complicit with Ishmael in the knowledge of why the Captain should feel this way. Ahab says to the Carpenter, 'In thy most solitary hours, then, dost thou not fear eavesdroppers?' (p. 482). Events narrated by Ishmael which occur away from the Pequod, such as Ahab's boarding of the Samuel Enderby can also be explained: 'I boarded her once at midnight somewhere off the Patagonian coast. . . It was a fine gam we had,' (p. 454). What better time and place to recall the visit of the doomed Captain Ahab, an event which would presumably live on in memory for many years after. Even Ishmael's narration of Fedallah's prophecy, given when Ahab and his boat were adrift at sea overnight, can be attributed to the superstitious crew eagerly sharing such portentous information. The greatest inconsistency is not Ishmael's reporting of these events, but his failure to acknowledge his sources, which is strange given his generally thorough scholarship.

Ishmael's reporting of the thoughts of other characters is more problematical. In 'Surmises' for example, Ahab's thoughts are offered, rather than the musings of the narrator, which would be the natural assumption from the title of the chapter. Likewise, Starbuck's are presented in 'The Spirit-Spout': Terrible old man! thought Starbuck with a shudder, sleeping in this gale, still thou steadfastly eyest thy purpose,' (p. 241). Ishmael may have observed Starbuck's physical action - the shudder - and yet could not possibly know his thoughts, it being highly unlikely that he would share them with anyone, especially a common sailor like Ishmael. At one point in the novel, Ishmael offers an explanation which is disappointing in its simplicity: he made such thoughts up:

'The monomaniac old man seemed distrustful of his crew's fidelity. . . But if these suspicions really were his, he sagaciously refrained from verbally expressing them, however his actions might seem to hint them,' (p. 513).

He presents thoughts as if they are genuine, only rarely conceding that they may not be so. As Dillingham says, 'This highly sensitive, imaginative and sometimes unstable narrator is recreating the story, both from what he actually witnessed and heard and from what he pieces together in his imagination.'[41]The narrative is Ishmael's equivalent of scrimshaw, minute in detail and the product of many idle hours on the Pequod. As stated above (p. 12), the re-creation of the voyage is therapy for Ishmael, a vital part of which being an attempt to empathise with those in control of the ship, and consequently the destiny of so many sailors. Although it is appealing to see him as a magical phantom of a narrator, he is only human, quite capable of the odd white lie when it suits his purpose.

Another perplexing characteristic of the narrative is Ishmael's tendency to drift into the background, detaching himself from events, even ones in which he figures. This position of 'involved detachment' is identified in Walt Whitman's 'Song of Myself', when the speaker says he is: 'Both in and out of the game, and watching and wondering at it.'[42] On such occasions the first-person narrative becomes third-person. Sailors at the Mast-Head who are hypnotised by the view of the outstretched ocean are spoken of in the third-person, and yet the passage describing this hypnotic scene clearly demonstrates that Ishmael is speaking from experience:

Lulled into such an opium-like listlessness of vacant, unconscious reverie is this absent-minded youth by the cadence of the waves with thoughts, that at last he loses his identity; takes the mystic ocean at his feet for the visible image of that deep, blue, bottomless soul, pervading mankind and nature; and every strange, half-seen, gliding, beautiful thing that eludes him. . . seems to him the embodiment of those illusive thoughts that only people the soul by continually flitting through it (p. 162).

Ishmael does not only detach himself from his character in the narration, but also from the Pequod. A line from 'The Chase - Second Day' is typical of this shift: 'They were one man, not thirty,' (p. 563). Such 'slips' as these could be used as evidence of Ishmael making everything up, nullifying any claims to his being a 'veritable witness'. His detachment from the action is at its peak in the latter half of 'The Doubloon', in which Stubb takes over as narrator, observing the crew members' thoughts on the coin. It could be that he is recording events as Stubb recounted them to him, which would be a rare acknowledgement of a source. The passage is thus a conversation, and although admittedly one-sided, as such it offers Ishmael's presence rather than his complete detachment. There is evidence of this device earlier in 'Enter Ahab; to Him, Stubb', in which the monologue of Stubb has conversational qualities, such as questions or interruptions from an implied listener:

I don't know whether to go back and strike him, or - what's that? down here on my knees and pray for him? Yes, that was the thought coming up in me (p. 129).

This explanation is not without difficulty, however. If Ishmael is conversing with Stubb in this chapter it is impossible for him to have heard Ahab's delivery of his monologue in 'The Pipe', which occurs simultaneously, unless he has some other means of knowing Ahab's musings.[43] The detachment Ishmael displays at times is typical of his contradictory nature, linking him to the inscrutability of the whale itself.

The strangest shift in the narrative is the adoption of a dramatic presentation, 'thirteen stage-set, stage-directed chapters complete with the traditional brackets and italics of printed play form.'[44] In the narrative there are occasions on which Ishmael reveals that he views his story as a drama, as in 'The drama's done' from the Epilogue (p. 583), or when the Carpenter is introduced: 'The Pequod's Carpenter has no duplicate; hence, he now comes in person on this stage,' (p. 476). Vogel suggests that the novel comprises two dramas: 'The first was the conflict of Ahab and the whale; the second of Ahab and his mates.'[45] For obvious reasons the 'conflict of Ahab and the whale' could not be represented as effectively in drama as in prose, yet no such constraints exist for the latter: 'Melville was able to stage the human conflict aboard the Pequod.'[46] The detached presentation allows Ishmael to remain impartial in his presentation of this struggle, the reason for his willingness to 'disregard his narrative point of view.'[47] As Ahab is important in these episodes, Ishmael allows his personality to dissolve; he focuses attention on 'the protagonist', recreating him as a 'tragic hero'[48] in the Shakespearean mould, to some extent glorifying his position. Even Ahab's language reflects this source: 'Of the soliloquies Ahab's show the presence of Elizabethan speech the most.'[49] Stewart expands Olson's idea of Moby Dick originally being two novels in his essay 'The Two Moby Dicks'.[50] He suggests a shift in Chapter fifteen towards a more tragic, Shakespearean tone, hence the introduction of Ahab and his fatal obsession with Moby Dick. Olsondoes not believe these two figures to have been in the original, non-Shakespearean, novel: 'Moby Dick was two books written between February 1850 and August 1851. The first book did not contain Ahab. It may not, except incidentally, have contained Moby Dick.'[51] He regards Macbeth as the inspiration for Ahab,[52] and what better way of recreating a Shakespearean tragic hero than the use of dramatic passages? Even when not presented in a dramatic framework his character still shows a debt to drama: 'A mark of Ahab's discursive impunity is his tendency to speak in monologues.'[53] The use of the dramatic form is also symptomatic of Ishmael's contradictory character; drama is in many respects the antithesis of the first person narration, as it involves an almost complete withdrawal of the once dominant narrative voice. This innovative blending of prose and drama is also a means of varying the pace of the narrative. As Porter puts it, 'there is rhetorical method in his madness.'[54] In his use of these dramatic chapters Ishmael 'sets up moods only to disrupt them'[55] by a return to prose and vice versa. Thus the narrative has a rhythmical pattern like that of the sea, 'a rise and fall like the movement of an Elizabethan tragedy,'[56] whilst retaining the ability to surprise. One example of this is the carnivalesque 'Midnight, Forecastle', in which the crew take over the narrative, singing and dancing in the rigging, in sharp contrast to the often doom-laden feeling of the opening chapters, clearly an indication of Ishmael's ability to be both light-hearted and serious as the situation demands.

As well as being characterised by variation, the narrative also consistently plays with the reader's expectations, largely in the form of ominous hints about the future of the Pequod. They are rarely explicit, but reveal enough to give a feeling that Ishmael is wise in hindsight and not telling all he knows to the reader. He says of his doubts about committing himself to a voyage with such a mysterious Captain: 'When a man suspects any wrong, it sometimes happens that if he be already involved in the matter, he insensibly strives to cover up his suspicions even from himself,' (p. 100). These intimations are a means of manipulating the reader into continued interest, what Brodhead describes as 'future directed curiosity.'[57] Although there is a 'sense of forward movement through time which the journey itself creates'[58] the reader needs the promise of a satisfying denouement if he is to travel the whole distance. The allusions to the power of Moby Dick, and the doom of the Pequod offer such enticement. As Lee puts it, 'However much Melville makes us wait on. . . the movement forward and out which will bring the whaleship into direct clash with the whale remains palpably there.'[59]

The menacing suggestions are offered through the use of loaded phrases, often easily overlooked. In 'The Needle' Ahab is shown to take control of both his ship and Nature, through the magnetising of a needle in order that he can navigate, thus appearing godlike. Ishmael's single line at the end of this chapter undermines this aspect of the foregoing material, suggesting that the reader should not be deceived: 'You then saw Ahab in all his fatal pride,' (p. 526). Fatal for whom? is the significant ambiguity: Moby Dick or himself and the crew of the Pequod? Ishmael' perceptions, especially at the opening of the novel, encourage the reader to see foreboding signs everywhere: 'It's ominous, thinks I. A Coffin my Innkeeper upon landing in my first whaling port; tombstones staring at me in the whalemen's chapel; and here a gallows!' (p. 67). The 'here' is Hosea Hussey's Inn, and the 'gallows' are a stand for two pots of food, rationality which appears lost on Ishmael. Captain Bildad's tract 'The Latter Day Coming; or No Time To Lose', and his warning to 'turn from the wrath to come' (p. 93), set up an immediate association in the reader's mind between the ship and doom, a common idea in the narrative. This perception is returned to later, when Ishmael describes it rapidly sailing towards damnation: 'The rushing Pequod, freighted with savages, and laden with fire, and burning a corpse, and plunging into that blackness of darkness,' (p. 434). The reader can have little doubt as to the outcome of any meeting of the Pequod and Moby Dick. Ishmael also prepares for death in his meditations: 'How is it that we still refuse to be comforted for those who we nevertheless maintain are dwelling in unspeakable bliss?' (p. 37). He goes on to wonder at the fear excited by knockings emanating from a coffin, an image which is returned to in 'Hark!', in which strange noises are heard coming from the hatches, creating dread in the sailor, and the reader, if he is sensible of the allusion. Occasionally Ishmael offers more explicit information on the future of the Pequod, although it is still ambiguous enough for the reader to maintain interest in the future. The death of Queequeg is mentioned, as is that of Pip, menacing glimpses of the destruction to come.

On other occasions the threats are more specifically related to whales, Moby Dick in particular. Ishmael alludes to the appealing threat of the whale, 'a portentous and mysterious monster,' (p. 6) in the first chapter 'Loomings', developed further in 'The Advocate', when he stresses the ability of a whale to induce fear: 'What are the comprehensible terrors of man [war for example] compared with the interlinked terrors of God! ['the apparition of the sperm whale's vast tail'] (p. 110). The need for such fear and reverence is illustrated in 'The Chapel' by the tombstones of sailors who have been killed by whales or in pursuit of them. More specific intimations as to the threat of Moby Dick's great power are frequently offered at the meeting of other ships, such as in 'The Pequod meets the Delight', in which Ahab is warned of the high price of attempting to overcome the White Whale. Through the reporting of Ahab's blasphemous speeches the narrative once again darkly suggests the fatal consequence of such rebellion. Father Mapple's sermon, concerning Jonah and his disobedience, is tacitly recalled on such occasions, Moby Dick becoming analogous with the Biblical whale, the instrument of God's justice. Even in 'The Chart', when Ahab is plotting his course so as to meet Moby Dick, the future slaughter is indicated in the choice of position:

There and then, for several consecutive years, Moby Dick had been periodically descried. . . There it was, too, that most of the deadly encounters with the white whale had taken place. . . there also was that tragic spot where the monomaniac old man had found the awful motive to his vengeance (p. 204).

Throughout the narrative, Ishmael hardly allows the reader to imagine that Ahab will be victorious, repeatedly hinting at disaster.

The narrative creates the impression of impending doom not only through oblique hints, but also through prophecy. These visions are given added weight with the knowledge that Ahab lost his leg 'according to the prophecy,' (p. 96) thus establishing a link between the Captain and forecasts that become reality. Elijah's words to Ishmael before the sailing of the Pequod are recalled to mind towards the end of the novel, when Fedallah delivers his own improbable prediction. Ahab might view it as impossible for this to come true, but the reader must surely remember Elijah's words, as well as the consequence of Macbeth's similar dismissal of an apparently implausible vision. Just as the chart position of the meeting of the Pequod and Moby Dick foretells disaster so do the nine ships they meet on the way: 'What each of the nine ships shows Ahab he rejects as inadequate. What they suffer makes inevitable the tragedy of the Pequod.'[60] Gabriel of the Jeroboam prophecies death for those who confront Moby Dick, just as Captain Boomer of the Samuel Enderby concedes that persisting in the hunt for the whale could result in more than the loss of a limb. Ahab chooses to ignore the revelations as to the future, yet Ishmael is not strong in his criticism, he himself having dismissed such clues, only appreciating their true value in hindsight. In this system of predictions about the fate of the Pequod's voyage, Pip, 'the castaway' black boy, takes on the role of Cassandra, doomed to speak the truth and not to be heeded: 'Ha, ha! old Ahab! the White Whale; he'll nail ye! [as Ahab nailed the doubloon to the mast],' (p. 445). In the sinking of the Pequod 'we can see as a whole the price of Ahab's ignoring the weave of prophecy and omen.'[61] In terms of the reader's interest, the narrative thus appears to be building up to the enlightenment of Ahab, when he finally comprehends the signs. The sinking of his ship is a partial surprise in that the auguries of destruction are so insistent that they are seemingly impossible to ignore.

Just as the narrative is difficult to categorise, so the treatment of disaster is not always unequivocally sombre. Humour is injected into many of the omens, which has the effect of creating an even greater feeling of menace. Elijah's dockside performance is almost melodramatic at times, yet the threat of his words permits only nervous laughter. It is unclear whether or not the reader should laugh off Elijah and dismiss him as 'a humbug', as Ishmael does (p. 98). Captain Peleg's description of Ahab losing his leg is likewise undercut by humour: 'It was devoured, chewed up, crunched by the monstrousest paracetty that ever chipped a boat! - ah, ah!' (p. 74). Is this zeal affected in order to have a laugh at the inexperienced Ishmael, or is it naturally induced by the terrible thought of Moby Dick? Far from relieving the tension, the inclusion of comedy in such situations heightens the sinister threat of death. Ishmael also toys with the reader in his direct comments, creating more uncertainty as to how the omens should be received: 'Coffin? - Spouter? - Rather ominous in that particular connection, thought I,' (p. 9). It is unclear whether this is intended as a joke at the expense of the superstitious or a true intimation as to the future. Ishmael relishes the threat of comedy, highlighted in the image conjured up by Queequeg's tattooed legs: 'His very legs were marked, as if a parcel of dark green frogs were running up the trunks of young palms,' (p. 23). This is a fanciful and yet disturbing image, typical of Ishmael's ambiguity, also displayed in Doctor Bunger's joke that Captain Boomer could get his lost right arm out of Moby Dick's stomach by using his left as bait. It is arguable that Ahab is already following this comically logical advice, a perception which modifies the reader's reception of such humour.

Until the tragic conclusion of the novel it is ambiguous whether or not the system of omens and prophecies is a joke at the reader's expense, a means of inducing belief in superstition, something which is common in the sailors of the Pequod. It is a literary double bluff in this respect, encouraging the reader to regard such hints as false due to the excessive way in which doom is stressed in the narrative, a joke turned back on the reader in the realisation of these prophecies. Along with the varying narrative presentation, the system of threat and comedy is a further example of Ishmael and his narrative's ambiguous duplicity.

Chapter Three:
'Will any whaleman believe these stories?'
(p. 470 Herman Melville Moby Dick.)

Moby Dick contains a large amount of scholarly work on the science of whaling and yet, Ishmael's detailed explanations of many technical aspects of the voyage are often seen as having less value than the chapters specifically addressed to Ahab and Moby Dick. Clearly, though, there is a necessity for the inclusion of such material, which becomes apparent even with a casual reading. Part of the reason, as discussed above (p. 12), is to demonstrate Ishmael's own obsessive dedication to the pursuit of the whale. To leave it at that misses one of the most important reasons for its inclusion: it facilitates the reader's understanding, enabling a more complete appreciation of the text. As Ward says: 'the narrative sections would be nearly incomprehensible without the extensive descriptions of the whale and whaling processes.'[62] In this respect the chapters prepare for the novel's climax: 'By the time the Pequod meets Moby Dick . . . [it can be taken] for granted that the reader has an understanding of the terminology and methods.'[63] In support of such a view, Charles Olson points out, 'as the book sweeps to its tragic close in the last thirty chapters, Melville rules out all such exposition.'[64] The 'scientific chapters'[65] are vital: 'The large accumulation of data serves, does not interfere with, the narrative.'[66] Ishmael is persistently stressing the importance of this information, encouraging the reader to retain as much as possible. As he says in 'Cetology':

At the outset it is but well to attend to a matter most indispensable to a thorough appreciative understanding of the more special leviathanic revelations and allusions of all sorts which are to follow.[67]

At every stage Ishmael is the helpful guide, on occasion seemingly apologetic about the need for such material, yet stating that it 'will not fail to elucidate several most important, however intricate passages, in scenes hereafter to be painted,' (p. 299). Ishmael's much quoted analogy of the narrative to a tree[68] demonstrates that such passages are a natural consequence of his attempt to offer a definitive picture of the sperm whale and his dedicated followers, the whaling ships: 'As yet. . . the sperm whale, scientific or poetic, lives not complete in any literature. Far above all other hunted whales, his is an unwritten life,' (p. 135). To redress this deficiency is partly Ishmael's intention in the creation of Moby Dick. The benefits of such encyclopaedic knowledge, despite his assurances, are not always immediately obvious though. This is partly due to the fact that the reader unconsciously applies earlier gained knowledge, and so does not fully appreciate the value of the narrator's efforts; such unwitting application is a testament to his success. The chapter 'The Line', which explains the complex movement of the whale line on the boats is, despite coming at the mid-point of the novel, invaluable when reading of Fedallah's demise during the chase of Moby Dick. This knowledge allows the reader to accept Fedallah's fate as probable and also enables him to read the narrative with the fast pace intended. The detailed presentation of the processes involved in whaling are preparation and also a form of rehearsal for the final confrontation with Moby Dick. Other aspects, particularly those dealing with the treatment of the whale after capture, are conspicuous in that they are destined never to happen to Moby Dick, at least at the hands of the Pequod. Such instances are Ishmael's way of offering an alternative to the fate of the Pequod, in which the White Whale is defeated.

The factual passages are also important to the structure of the narrative in terms of its presentation of time: 'He had to give the effect of a long voyage, but he had to face the obvious fact that on a long whaling voyage very little happens.'[69] Despite Moby Dick not being long by comparative nineteenth-century standards, Ishmael is successful in this emulation not by crudely relating the long voyage using a long narrative, but by varying the pace and style. The periodic shift to often detailed facts slows the narrative, shown to be particularly effective between chapters Forty and Forty-one. 'Midnight, Forecastle' the fast paced revel mentioned above (p. 23), is contrasted with the opening statement of the next chapter: 'I, Ishmael, was one of that crew,' (p. 181). This is representative of a sober return to the relative normality of the narrator's voice. Similarly, the excitement and wonder of Ahab's display of power in 'The Candles', in which he seizes the lightning rod, is deflated by Stubb's rational dismissal of any claims the episode might have to being extraordinary. He says to Flask: 'Don't you see, you timberhead, that no harm can come to the holder of the rod, unless the mast is first struck,' (p. 518). The use of rationality to deflate earlier narrative highs, and the long factual chapters, are necessary for the 'rise and fall' characteristic of the narrative, discussed previously (p. 23).

Whilst focusing on the factual aspects of the narrative, it should be remembered that many passages are of a dubious nature, if not complete fabrications. This is another feature of the 'rise and fall' structure of the novel. Brodtkorb sums up the situation: '“Ishmael”, we soon discover, is a story-teller in every sense; he tells us a fish story that, like most fish stories, is partly true and partly false.'[70] The narrative, however, is not a straight forward mixture of truth and lies. Ishmael often expresses a need to validate his work through the citation of anecdotes and authorities yet these very devices, supposed to reassure the reader that something improbable is true, are often equally, if not more unbelievable. On one occasion, for example, he attempts to prove that a whale can be struck by a harpoon, escape, and be found to have that weapon embedded in him years later, but undermines his own authority by the use of a wildly embellished example:

The purpose of verification [is not] served by the little flight of fancy used to depict the three year instance man's African adventure, in which he was “endangered by serpents, savages, tigers, poisonous miasmas, with all the other common perils incident to wandering in the heart of unknown regions.”[71]

As Porter says: 'there are. . . two voices speaking here. One speaks in the cadences of legal testimony, and the other can be heard struggling against its limits.'[72] Despite this undermining of his own evidence, Ishmael frequently hints at the strong desire he has to prove what he says. His general intention is to: 'take away any incredulity which a profound ignorance of the entire subject may induce in some minds, as to the natural verity of the main points of this affair,' (p. 207). After the recounting of the Town-Ho's story to his Spanish friends he seems desperate to impress upon them the truth of his story:

So help me Heaven, and on my honor the story I have told ye, gentlemen, is in substance and its great items, true. I know it to be true; it happened on this ball; I trod the ship; I knew the crew; I have seen and talked with Steelkilt since the death of Radney (p. 269).

Yet despite this impulse to prove himself, he offers absurd proof his defence: it 'has been proved by experiment, that the blood of a Polar whale is warmer than that of a Borneo negro in summer,' (p. 316). This may be true, yet its obscurity invalidates it as a means by which to prove a point. Also, Ishmael's deliberate misreading and misinterpretation of ancient stories further demonstrates his inability to convince the reader. For example, he argues that St. George's dragon was in fact a whale, the confusion arising because 'in many old chronicles whales and dragons are strangely jumbled together,' (p. 372). One explanation of why he does this is offered by Ishmael in an observation on men in the same profession as himself: 'All sailors of all sorts are more or less capricious and unreliable,' (p. 217).

This aspect of the narrative can be explained by Ishmael's tendency to exaggeration and hyperbole, as in his description of Nantucket, where even weeds do not grow naturally so 'they import Canada thistles' and the atmosphere is so wet due to the proximity of the sea 'that to their very chairs and tables small clams will sometimes be found adhering,' (p. 64). It would appear that Ishmael is unable to restrain his excesses in this respect. Another facet of his style is to assert outrageous lies as if they were incontrovertible truth, an observation in 'The Fountain' illustrating this compulsive fabrication:

While composing a little treatise on Eternity, I had the curiosity to place a mirror before me; and ere long saw reflected there, a curious involved worming and undulation in the atmosphere over my head (p. 383).

Every aspect of this passage reveals the comedy typically found in Ishmael's lies: the 'little treatise on Eternity' for instance, or the idea of his being so involved in his thoughts that he produces a visible manifestation of his brain's activity, yet still retaining the curiosity to place a mirror before himself whilst doing so. These convince the reader not of his truth, but of his scholarly sense of humour. Such passages not only add humour but also a feeling of magic and excess; that this is a world in which the improbable is the benchmark of normality. Thus, although undermining his own attempts at validation, Ishmael indirectly creates an atmosphere in which he is believed anyway, or at least, allowed the luxury of having his inconsistencies overlooked. Recalling the Shakespearean influence Short argues:

Like Shakespeare, Melville needed to create a myth-world where the laws of probability could be relaxed, enabling him to get at the experience behind the dark glass of reality.[73]

Another curious inconsistency is the extent to which Ishmael uses superstition in the narrative. It is not offered in order to be judged false, and on many occasions he influences the reader to accept it as truth: 'He evokes “out-blown rumours” and “wild, strange tales” in such a way as to encourage us to enter into a superstitious frame of mind.'[74] In the chapter 'Moby Dick', speaking of confrontations with the White Whale, Ishmael concedes that 'wild rumours of all sorts. . . exaggerate, and still more horrify the true histories of these deadly encounters,' (p. 182). Such unchecked superstition 'eventually invested Moby Dick with new terrors unborrowed from anything that visibly appears,' (p. 183). One of the reasons behind the influence of superstition is the 'childish fireside interest and awe' (p. 183) displayed by many sailors; Ishmael the sailor wants such exaggerated stories to be true and so promotes them as such in his narrative. There are three main foci for the superstition: Ahab, Fedallah and the other Parsees, and, of course, Moby Dick. Ahab is hinted at from early in the novel as being 'above the common' (p. 83) and is offered as a man of supernatural powers with an impressively bloody past, his facial scarring and lost leg presented as evidence. Although Ishmael only comments on the worrying aspects of these intimations, rather than dismissing them, such expressions tacitly encourage the reader to accept at least partial truth in them, manipulating the reception of Ahab by converting the exaggerated rumour he attacks later into a version of the truth. Ishmael continues this supernatural charade once the Pequod has set sail, by making ominous observations on the fact that Ahab stays below, unseen by his crew: 'Captain Ahab remained invisibly enshrined within his cabin,' (p. 103). He allows the unfounded reports of others to affect his, and so indirectly the reader's, view of Ahab, which is noticeable the first time he looks upon his Captain. External appearance is taken as the measure of Ahab's character, Ishmael allowing his eyes, rather than his sense, to comment on the superstition linked to the old Captain: 'So soon as I levelled my glance towards the taffrail, foreboding shivers ran all over me. Reality outran apprehension; Captain Ahab stood upon his quarter-deck,' (p. 124). This means of presentation emulates in the reader's mind the mystery and fear experienced by Ishmael and the crew of the Pequod, yet it is deceptive in that Ishmael deliberately leaves it ambiguous as to whether or not there is some truth in the superstition, something he could easily clarify with hindsight. Similarly Fedallah and the mysterious Parsees are a source of superstitious invention. The first appearance of these characters is abrupt and startling, when they are ambiguously described as being 'five dusky phantoms that seemed freshly formed out of air,' (p. 221). Fedallah's link to the supernatural, and in particular the devil, is exploited on many occasions by Ishmael, such as when he is looking into the fire in 'The Forge', or when he appears to have no shadow, it having merged with Ahab's, or even the casual revelation that he could see at night with 'the same precision as if it had been day,' (p. 238). This narrative stance is intended to reflect the perceptions of the crew, who are suspicious of the strange stowaways. Once again Ishmael is identified as belonging to the crew in this attitude, his jaded viewpoint being reflected in the narrative. He encourages the identification of Fedallah with the devil, for example, telling the reader of his 'half-hissed reply' (p. 222) to Ahab. Far from being the 'veritable witness' he imagines himself to be, Ishmael is capable of not only allowing but actively encouraging such superstition to be viewed as reality. Moby Dick is without doubt the major target of the narrative's superstition and conjecture. He is the 'grand hooded phantom' (p. 6) that took Ahab's leg and killed so many in such a malicious way; he is 'immortal' and 'ubiquitous' according to many (p. 185); and it is even suggested that he is the 'Spirit-Spout', 'alluring us [the Pequod] on' towards destruction (p. 239). The portrayal of his power, malignity and intelligence owes little to established fact and a great deal to old embellished stories. As Ishmael concedes, of the Pequod's crew 'only a few of them, comparatively, had knowingly seen him,' (p. 189). In the face of such a mysterious threat it is not surprising that Ishmael resorts to offering his own inventions, or those of others, to explain the White Whale. For him, the fear of the unknown is greater than even the grisliest whaling story. As well as using superstition to calm his own mind, Ishmael is also toying with the reader as discussed above (p. 27-8); he is ambiguous as to the validity of this superstition in order to create doubt in the reader's mind. On one occasion he suggests that superstition can be good, saying that Starbuck has 'that sort of superstition, which in some organizations seems rather to spring, somehow, from intelligence than from ignorance,' (p. 116). Such 'intelligent superstition' appears paradoxical, and yet the narrative supports this view: Fedallah was proved right in his vision of Ahab's death, Moby Dick turns out to be capable of malicious, murderous violence, and Ahab is the man doomed to die. What is the reader to believe if such superstition is apparently validated? This inversion is to be expected of a narrative that is consistent only in inconsistency. By confirming in the narrative's action the validity of what appeared to be unfounded superstition, Ishmael cannot be criticised for seeming to promote it as truth earlier.

The narrative is given mythical qualities through the inclusion of such hyperbole and superstitious, fabulous stories. Concurrent with this perception of Moby Dick as a mythical narrative is the idea of it being an 'epic,'[75] a celebration of every aspect of whaling. Part of this is the relish with which the actual processes of whaling are narrated, as discussed above. Also, whaling images and motifs pervade the text, privileging whaling not just directly through Ishmael's opinions on its value, but also through minor details. One example is Queequeg taking his harpoon to breakfast at the 'Spouter Inn' in order to capture his beefsteaks (p. 32), and another is Father Mapple's pulpit, which is built to mimic a ship's prow. Ishmael's rapturous attention to the smallest detail of the whaling process is a means of elevating the subject. Even the decanting off of oil into barrels is eulogised by him: 'Now it remains to conclude the last chapter of this part. . . by rehearsing - singing, if I may - the romantic proceeding of decanting off his oil,' (p. 437). The whale, the noble object of the whalemen's pursuit, is offered as a suitably grand subject for an epic: 'Of all erections, how few are domed like St Peters! of creatures, how few vast as the whale!' (p. 316). Vincent describes the narrative as 'a whaling epic in which the chief actor is. . . a whale.'[76] Ishmael backs up the importance of the whale, stressing its necessity to the epic construction of the novel:

To produce a mighty book, you must choose a mighty theme. No great and enduring volume can ever be written on the flea, though many there be who have tried it (p. 466).

As well as minutely exploring the body of the whale, Ishmael also praises its endurance through time, citing instances of its existence from thousands of years ago: 'He swam the seas before the continents broke water,' (p. 473). Such an image suggests that the whale almost predates creation, and is in fact god-like, if not better: 'Not Jove, not that great majesty Supreme! did surpass the glorified White Whale as he so divinely swam,' (p. 554). The whale - Moby Dick in particular - is at the centre of the epic celebration of the whaling industry, which is portrayed as the struggle between Man and the 'great grand god,' (p. 555).

The novel also has many other 'epic' qualities besides the presentation of whales and whaling. Ward says the reader realises a myth has been created when he has 'read and unconsciously assimilated the metaphorical detail that richly impenetrates the cetological passages.'[77] This process is almost imperceptible, yet the reader realises that something other than a simple whaling voyage is being narrated. The ship, for instance, becomes representative not just of the whaling community but of the whole world; as Ishmael observes in 'The Pulpit', 'the world's a ship on its passage out, and not a voyage complete,' (p. 41). The depiction of every day reality would appear to work against the spirit of the 'epic' in its concern with the god-like Moby Dick and the damned Ahab, yet Arvin suggests that it is a further element in favour of this appellation:

There might seem to be a hopeless incongruity between Ahab's purpose and the mystic Spirit-Spout, as between the jolly unimaginative Stubb and the satanic Fedallah: in the setting of Moby Dick they are no more incongruous than, in the Odyssey, the swine of Eumaeus and the magic veil that Ino bestows on Odysseus.[78]

Ishmael invokes God, asking him to 'bear with' him while he elevates the common sailors of the Pequod for his stylistic ends (p. 118). There is also a feeling that the Pequod is at the whim of an omnipotent force, in much the same way as Odysseus' ship. This sense of interference and external guidance has its origins both in Ishmael's explicit comments, such as when he refers to the 'weaver-god' (p. 460), and from the reader's viewpoint, which takes in the whole ship, its characters and their motives, and to some extent the future. Epic magic is also present in the narrative, Ahab's displays of power in 'The Candles' and 'The Needle', for example, mirror the manipulation of Odysseus' appearance by Pallas Athene. Ahab comes across as being able to overcome Nature, a perception which proves to be illusory at the climax of the novel. In terms of the narrative as epic, the voice of Ishmael is important. When addressing the reader he frequently shifts into apostrophe mode, which Porter sees as characteristic of an epic:

[He is] so deeply absorbed by the culture of the Sperm Whale Fishery that he speaks finally as its epic poet in a series of apostrophes: “Was it not so, O Timor Tom . . . O New England Jack! . . . O Morquan . . . O Don Milguel!”'[79]

The subject of the novel is also weighty enough for epic treatment. Just as in the story of Jonah the whale is a means of exploring the nature of disobedience, punishment and repentance, so Moby Dick is used to investigate Man's struggle against God, Nature and the good and evil in himself.

If it is accepted that Ishmael creates some form of epic, then the question arises as to whether or not it embodies the spirit and ideals of the nation it portrays, as Homer's work does Ancient Greece; is it the United States' 'national epic'?[80] The narrative frequently praises America, Nantucket in particular: 'Nantucket was her [New Bedford's] great original,' (p. 7) as well as mocking the whaling efforts of other nations, Germany and France especially. The people of the former are described as being 'unskilled fishermen' (p. 370) and those of the latter are portrayed as stupid and effeminate, their ship mockingly named 'Rosebud'. This superiority on the waves can be seen as a claim on the oceans for the United States, on occasion Ishmael even describing them as a continuation of his nation's land, with the whalemen as pioneers in the American tradition:

These are the times, when in his whale-boat the rover softly feels a certain filial, confident, land-like feeling towards the sea. . . and the distant ship revealing only the tops of her masts, seems struggling forwards, not through rolling waves, but through the tall grass of a rolling prairie: as when the western emigrants' horses only show their erected ears, which there hidden bodies widely wade through the amazing verdure (p. 500).

Charles Olson in Call Me Ishmael supports this idea, arguing that the search of sperm oil 'gave whaling the lead role in making the Pacific the American lake the navy now, after a lapse of 100 years, has been about the business of certifying.'[81] In connection with this theme the narrative is also concerned with commerce. The often neglected importance of the prevailing economic situation with regards to whaling in nineteenth-century America is highlighted by Olson: 'We forget the part the chase of the whale played in the American economy.'[82] This offers another explanation as to the concentration on the 'business' of whaling in the narrative, being very much a part of the spirit of the age. The narrative also reflects the mixed origins of the people that make up the United States. The Pequod has a multi-nationality crew, as becomes apparent from the chapter 'Midnight, Forecastle', and is even a multi-nationality ship:

Her hull's complexion was darkened like a French grenadier's, who has alike fought in Egypt and Siberia . . . Her masts - cut somewhere on the coast of Japan . . . stood stiffly up like the spines of the three kings of Cologne. . . Her ancient decks were worn and wrinkled, like the pilgrim-worshipped flag-stone in Canterbury Cathedral . . . She was apparelled like any Ethiopian emperor (p. 71).

Even some of the metaphors applied are often diverse and originate far from America, such as 'Knights and Squires', or the image of Ahab as 'Sultan' and his mates as 'Emirs' (p. 150). Rather than being un-American, this diversity mirrors the United States' own rich cultural blend, the novel being in this respect a celebration of the nation, rather than its constituent influences and parts. This cultural diversity is also apparent in what Ward calls Ishmael's 'double role as a scientist and poet.'[83] The role of the individual, Ishmael, should not be forgotten in this context, the spirit of individual endeavour being another aspect of the American ethos. As Lee says, the novel foregrounds the self:

As much as Moby Dick offers itself as high epic, it also functions as a wonderfully canny piece of self-knowing narration . . . Moby Dick . . . calls attention, throughout its length, to its own conception and modes of self-realisation.[84]

The novel cannot be adequately categorised as any one type of literature. Part of its power is the varied nature of the narrative. Moby Dick is whaling narrative, drama, poetry, epic and scientific study, defying a single definition just as Ishmael's character does. Such a mixture of styles and approaches inevitably leads to accusations of inconsistencies, in terms of the presentation of facts, the style and the point of view, yet its very difference protects it from such criticisms; Moby Dick does not conform to the usual literary form and so should not be judged by the usual criteria.

A 'cunning duplicate in mind.'
(p. 320 Herman Melville Moby Dick.)

Much of the interest in the narrative of Moby Dick focuses upon discovering who 'Ishmael' might be: 'He says “Call me Ishmael,” thus orientating the reader/ listener's attention to the possibility that the name is a mask.'[85] The assumption that Ishmael is one of the other characters in the novel arises not only from this assumed persona, but also from the evidence given frequently throughout the text that Ishmael could possibly be someone else:

So strong and metaphysically did I conceive of my situation then, that while earnestly watching his motions, I seemed distinctly to perceive that my own individuality was now merged in a joint-stock company of two.[86]

Although referring here to Queequeg, often a focus of critical attention on this subject, it could in fact be applied to many other characters:

The sobriety and good sense of Starbuck, the animal grace and undivided mind of Queequeg, the frivolity of Flask, the self-assertiveness of Ahab - all add up together with the other characters to total Ishmael.[87]

Arguably, the strongest and perhaps most desirable of links is to Captain Ahab. This solution answers many questions, most notably why the narrative came to be written: 'Give not thyself up, then, to fire, lest it invert thee, deaden thee; as for a time it did me.' Is this 'Ishmael', or could it be Ahab, repenting of his destructive monomania? In such a case, the narrative becomes Ahab's quest for redemption, rather than Ishmael's as suggested earlier (p. 12). The contradictory nature of the narrative could thus spring from Ahab's struggling attempts to project a new self:

[The book] exists in order to exist its writer as a dialectical being. . . the narrator becomes so involved with the not-self that he is often in danger of losing himself as a character in it.[88]

Ahab is taken over during the creation of his narrative by the illusion that he really is Ishmael:

As the narrative progresses there is a . . . loss of Ishmael's voice. . . The most obvious consequence of the negligence of self-portraiture is the collapse of the vivid distinction between Ishmael's mind and Ahab's.[89]

If Ahab is the narrator, it perhaps explains the epic feeling of the novel as a means of glorifying himself; likewise, through the dramatic passages he is able to rewrite himself as a tragic hero. Brodhead cites one instance where the narrative describes Ahab as 'a mighty pageant creature, formed for noble tragedies (p76).'[90] This self-glorification is natural to a man who persistently throughout the Pequod's voyage asserts his belief in his own powers, even over Nature and God.

There are many parallels to support this idea of a link between Ahab as projected in the story and the narrator. Both make frequent allusions to Fate. Ishmael says: 'Doubtless, my going on this whaling voyage, formed part of the grand programme of Providence that was drawn up a long time ago,' (p. 5). As Ahab observes in 'The Symphony', 'By, heaven, man, we are turned round and round in this world, like yonder windlass, and Fate is the handspike,' (p. 551). Similarly, both reject the hints at impending doom offered to them by various sources. Ishmael dismisses Elijah as 'a humbug' (p. 98) following his warnings about Ahab, just as the Captain ignores the many ships they pass, disregarding their warnings concerning the power and danger of Moby Dick. There are also occasions on which the diction of the two men is surprisingly similar. Ishmael's passage in 'The Blanket', quoted above (p. 16), is not only similar in expression to one of Ahab's in 'The Sphynx', but it also shares a common theme for contemplation, the state of Man:

O nature, and O soul of man! how far beyond all utterance are your linked analogies! not the smaller atom stirs or lives on matter, but has its cunning duplicate in mind (p. 320).

Sitney has observed this link between the two characters. In 'The Symphony' he argues, the distinction between the perceptions of the two are blurred:

Contextual clues point us to read the opening description [of the chapter] as if it mimed Ahab's perception. Only retrospectively do we learn they were Ishmael's. The effect is a fusion of the two figures. Here the narrator disposes of the accustomed antithesis of I and Ahab.[91]

Ishmael's ability to narrate scenes he could not possibly have observed - like onboard Ahab's boat when lost at night - is another point in favour of the view that he is in fact the Captain; in the majority of scenes of a dubious nature, Ahab figures. Both characters are also susceptible to obsession; Ahab in his hunt for Moby Dick and Ishmael, as stated above (p. 12), in his enquiry into whales in general, as he says in 'Moby Dick', 'Ahab's quenchless feud seemed mine,' (p. 181). Having learnt the error of his ways perhaps Ahab is turning to creative - rather than destructive - obsession. He is also capable of scholarly devotion to his end, as revealed in 'The Chart':

Have I not tallied the whale, Ahab would mutter to himself, as after poring over his charts till long after midnight he would throw himself back on reveries - tallied him, and shall he escape? (p. 205).

Incidentally, this passage also demonstrates the great intimacy Ishmael has with Ahab's private practices and thoughts. In relation to this search for whales, Ishmael and Ahab both also fail. As Ishmael concedes regarding his attempts to define the whale: 'Dissect him how I may, then, I but go skin deep; I know him not, and never will,' (p. 388).

This theory as to Ishmael's true identity being Captain Ahab is inevitably simplistic and idealistic, and as such should perhaps not be taken seriously. Despite evidence of many parallels, there are significant caveats which invalidate the claim. One is the nature of Ishmael's own monomania, which Brodhead identifies as being an 'alternative to', rather than a parallel with, Ahab's obsession:

His pursuit of this endeavour provides one line of narrative continuity in Moby Dick, a plot of curious enquiry that embodies his personal alternative to Ahab's plot and to Ahab's more obsessive conception of how the whale is to be comprehended and subdued.[92]

This difference can be seen in the 'Queen Mab' chapter. As the boats are preparing to lower after whales, the chapter ends and naturally it might be supposed that the chase would be recounted in the next, especially as this is the first lowering mentioned in the novel. Instead the 'Cetology' chapter follows, illustrating Ishmael's scholarly, rather than barbaric, quest for the whale in his narrative. He is even occasional expressive of his opposition to whaling. In 'The Virgin' the death of a whale is treated by him with much empathy, perhaps strange given his choice of a whaling ship in which to go to sea: 'he. . . lay panting on his side, impotently flapped with his stumped fin. . . It was most piteous, that last expiring spout,' (p. 388). He is also critical of the way in which the magnificent whale can only be viewed as a source of oil:

For all his old age, and his one arm, and his blind eyes, he must die the death and be murdered, in order to light the gay bridals and other merry-making of men, and also illuminate the solemn churches that preach unconditional inoffensiveness by all to all (p. 367).

He is opposed to the reduction of the sublime to the economic. There is also no reason to suppose Ishmael Ahab simply because he recounts events he could not have seen; there are many other scenes Ishmael narrates of this kind, like Starbuck's soliloquies on what he should do about Ahab's endangering of the voyage. Ahab is a common factor, but not a consistent one. Ultimately, there would be just as much evidence for saying that Ishmael is Queequeg, as Porter says: 'Queequeg becomes virtually a double, a shadow self for Ishmael.'[93]

The temptation to explain Ishmael in terms of another character is understandable, especially when his illusive character is considered. He is, however, as demonstrated throughout this dissertation, a character as fully developed as Ahab or anyone else, although presented in a more subtle manner. According to Olson:

He is passive and detached, the observer, and thus his separate and dramatic existence is not easily felt. But unless his choric function is recognized some of the vision of the book is lost.'[94]

His inconsistencies are human, rather than being clues to an alternative personage. It is highly probably that Melville consciously created parallels between his narrator and Captain Ahab but for thematic reasons - the nature of obsession for instance - rather than to offer a literary puzzle. Ishmael is the narrator and Ahab and Moby Dick a part of his subject. As such he is a mediating third party, the third point of an obsessional triangle, making him, and consequently the narrative, as important in his own right as both Ahab and the White Whale.

'Failure is the true test of greatness.'
(Herman Melville Hawthorne and His Mosses.)

The way in which Melville manipulates the reader's perceptions, a process owing little to chance and a great deal to the author's skill, has been highlighted throughout this dissertation. The blending of styles, the use of differently paced narratives, and above all the character of the narrator Ishmael, are elements of a novel created by a writer aware of what he wants to do, and how best to achieve it. There is a mountain of scholarly criticism on the novel, the majority of which affirms its greatness, and yet Melville did not see Moby Dick in this light. In a letter to Nathaniel Hawthorne, Melville speaks of the novel's meaning, its 'soul', struggling free of the 'imperfect body',[95] and he acknowledges his lofty aims in writing the novel, but is only willing to concede partial success in execution. In this perception of his 'failure', however, it is possible to trace a recognition of his own artistic worth:

It is better to fail in originality than to succeed in imitation. He who has never failed somewhere, that man can not be great. Failure is the true test of greatness.[96]

Despite Melville's views on what he sees as his flawed novel, the only real failure on his part is his inability either to perceive or acknowledge the power, and ultimately the success, of Moby Dick. Some of this may be false modesty, though. In a letter to Sophia Hawthorne[97] he tells her that he had been unaware of any allegorical reading of the 'Spirit-Spout' until she pointed it out to him, indicating that like Ishmael, Melville should not always be trusted.

The unique style of the novel - in terms of the whole, if not the composite parts - can be explained by Melville's conflict in writing:

What I feel most moved to write, that is banned - it will not pay. Yet, altogether, write the other way I cannot. So the product is a final hash, and all my books are botches.[98]

For Melville the need to balance the demands of finance and artistic integrity result in failure, and yet, just as the form of the novel is in the American spirit, as discussed above (p. 41), so is its creation; commerce is equally as important to the writing of the novel as to the finished novel itself. Obeying the demands of economics in capitalist America makes Melville 'great', as he says in 'Hawthorne and his Mosses' : 'Great geniuses are parts of the times: they themselves are the times, and possess a correspondent coloring.'[99] In the writing of Moby Dick, Melville balances the need for financial success and the more traditional artistic impulse, and in doing so dramatises the position of American writers of his time.

The feeling of vastness which the novel presents is representative of the author's determined search for Truth: 'You must have plenty of sea-room to tell the Truth in.'[100] The novel is necessarily varied in style and large in scope in order to overcome what Melville sees as the difficulty in locating Truth:

In this world of lies, Truth is forced to fly like a scared white doe in the woodlands; and only by cunning glimpses will she reveal herself, as in Shakespeare and other masters of the great Art of Telling the Truth - even though it be covertly, and by snatches.[101]

This perceived difficulty explains the contradictory, elusive character of Ishmael, Melville's appointed guide in the search for Truth in Moby Dick; his own struggle to represent Truth is manifest in the reader's problematical relationship with the narrator. The shifting nature of the narrative also reflects Melville's opinions of the Self, which profess the idea of organic development and re-creation through time and experience. He says in a post-script to one of his letters to Hawthorne:

Possibly, if you do answer it, and direct it to Herman Melville, you will missend it - for the very fingers that now guide this pen are not precisely the same that just took it up and put it on this paper. Lord, when shall we be done changing?[102]

The novel is not consciously the two novels identified by Olson and others but an evolving whole, transforming from one type of novel into one that is quite different and new, and that is clearly far from a failure.


From Vogel D 'The Dramatic Chapters in Moby Dick', Nineteenth Century Fiction 13 (December, 1958) pp. 239-248.

(pp. 241-242)

Melville intended to portray the battle of Ahab against types of mankind - the hero vs. lesser men. There seem to be in these chapters two cycles divided into five acts:

Act I (Exposition)
1) Ahab vs. Stubb (chapter xxix)

Act II (Rising action)

1) Ahab vs. Starbuck (chapter xxxvi)
2) Ahab's soliloquy (chapter xxxvii)
3)Starbuck's resolution (chapter xxxiii (sic) [xxxviii])
4) Stubb's retreat (chapter xxxix)
5) The dissolute crew and the introduction of Pip (chapter xl)

Act III (Interlude)

1) Ahab and the carpenter (chapter cviii)

Act IV (Climax)

[repeats general order of Act II]
1) Ahab vs. Starbuck (chapter cxix)
2)Starbuck's resignation (chapter cxx)
3) Stubb's resignation (chapter cxxi)
4)Tashtego's attitude (chapter cxxii)

Act V (Falling action and catharsis)

1) Ahab vs. Pip (chapter cxxvii)
2) Pip's resignation (chapter cxxix)


Primary Text

Melville H, Moby Dick, or The Whale, ed. Tanner T, (Oxford, 1988).

Secondary Texts

Arvin N, Herman Melville, (New York, 1950): 'The Whale', pp. 143-193.

Bloom H (ed.), Modern Critical Views: Herman Melville, (New York, 1986): Brodtkorb Jr P, 'Ishmael: The Nature and Forms of Despair', pp. 91-104; Sitney PA, 'Ahab's Name: A reading of 'The Symphony'', pp. 223-237.

Bowen JK and Vanderbeets R (eds.), A Critical Guide to Herman Melville: Abstracts of Forty Years of Criticism, (Glenview, Illinios, 1971): Short RW, 'Melville as Symbolist', p. 13; Babcock CM, 'The Vocabulary of Moby Dick', p. 15; Dillingham WB, 'The Narrator of Moby Dick', p. 26.

Brodhead RH, Hawthorne, Melville and the Novel, (London, 1976): 'Hawthorne, Melville and the Form of the Novel', pp. 9-28; 'The Uncommon Long Cable: Moby Dick', pp. 134-162.

Brodhead RH (ed.), New Essays on Moby Dick, (Cambridge, 1986): McIntosh J, 'The Mariner's Multiple Quest', pp. 23-52; Buell L, 'Moby Dick as Sacred Text, pp. 53-72; Porter C, 'Call Me Ishmael, or How to Make Double-Talk Speak', pp. 73-108.

Drabble M (ed.), The Oxford Companion to English Literature 5th­ Edition, (Oxford, 1985), p. 646-7a.

Leyda J (ed.), The Portable Melville, (New York, 1952): Hawthorne and His Mosses, pp. 400-422; Letter to Nathaniel Hawthorne, 1 (?) June 1851, pp. 429-434; Letter to Nathaniel Hawthorne, 17 (?) November 1851, pp. 452-455; Letter to Sophia Hawthorne, 8 January 1852, pp. 455-458.

Olson C, Call Me Ishmael, (San Francisco, 1947).

Pullin F (ed.), New Perspectives on Melville, (Edinburgh, 1978): Lee AR, 'Moby Dick: The Tale and the Telling', pp. 86-127.

Spanos WV, The Errant Art of Moby Dick: the canon, the Cold War and the struggle for American studies, (London, 1995): 'The Question of Ishmael's Name', pp. 75-86.

Stewart GR, 'The Two Moby Dicks', American Literature 25, (January, 1954), pp. 417-448.

Vincent HP, The Trying-Out of Moby Dick, (Massachusetts, 1949).

Vogel D, 'The Dramatic Chapters in Moby Dick', Nineteenth-Century Fiction 13, (December, 1958), pp. 239-248.

Ward JA, 'The Function of the Cetological Chapters in Moby Dick', American Literature 28, (May 1956), pp. 164-183.

Way B, Herman Melville: Moby Dick, (London, 1978).

Other Texts

Whitman W, Selected Poems and Prose, ed. Jeffares AN, (London, 1966), p. 8.

[1] Vincent HP, The Trying-Out of Moby Dick, (Massachusetts, 1949).

[2] Drabble M (ed.), The Oxford Companion to English Literature 5th­ Edition, (Oxford, 1985), p. 647a: 'Moby Dick is the closest approach the United States has had to a national epic.'

[3] Letter to Nathaniel Hawthorne, 17(?) November 1851, Leyda J (ed.), The Portable Melville, (New York, 1952), p. 453.

[4] Way B, Herman Melville: Moby Dick, (London, 1978), p. 53.

[5] Vincent, op.cit., p. 56.

[6] Lee AR, 'Moby Dick: The Tale and the Telling', Pullin F (ed.), New Perspectives on Melville, (Edinburgh, 1978), p. 93.

[7] Way, op.cit, p. 62.

[8] Ibid., p.58.

[9] Porter C, 'Call Me Ishmael, or How to Make Double-Talk Speak', Brodhead RH (ed.), New Essays on Moby Dick, (Cambridge, 1986), p. 73.

[10] Vincent, op.cit., p. 55.

[11] Melville H, Moby Dick, or The Whale, ed. Tanner T, (Oxford, 1988), p. 14. Subsequent references appear parenthetically in the text.

[12] Porter, op.cit., p. 99.

[13] Way, op.cit., p. 61.

[14] Brodhead RH, Hawthorne, Melville and the Novel, (London, 1976), p. 15.

[15] McIntosh J, 'The Mariner's Multiple Quest', Brodhead RH (ed.), New Essays on Moby Dick, (Cambridge, 1986), p. 48.

[16] Brodhead, op.cit., p. 151.

[17] McIntosh, op.cit., p. 49.

[18] Porter, op.cit., p. 76.

[19] Way, op.cit., p. 53.

[20] Ibid.

[21] My italics.

[22] Brodhead, op.cit., p. 22, (supported by McIntosh, op.cit., p. 29).

[23] Ibid., p. 135.

[24] The mythologising of the narrative is discussed in Chapter Three.

[25] Brodhead, op.cit., p. 17.

[26] Ibid., p. 15.

[27] Vincent, op.cit., p. 55.

[28] Ibid., p. 124.

[29] Ibid., p. 125.

[30] Ishmael observes Ahab at the chart 'almost every night'.

[31] Babcock CM, 'The Vocabulary of Moby Dick', Bowen JK and Vanderbeets R (eds.), A Critical Guide to Herman Melville: Abstracts of Forty Years of Criticism, (Glenview, Illinios, 1971), p. 15.

[32] Lee, op.cit., p. 122.

[33] Ward JA, 'The Function of the Cetological Chapters in Moby Dick', American Literature 28, (May 1956), pp. 164-183.

[34] Lee, op.cit., p. 105.

[35] Ibid., p. 113.

[36] Ibid., p. 112.

[37] Ibid., p. 111.

[38] Melville H, Moby Dick, or The Whale, ed. Tanner T, (Oxford, 1988), p. 201, (my italics). Subsequent page references appear parenthetically in the text.

[39] Sitney PA, 'Ahab's Name: A reading of 'The Symphony'', Bloom H (ed.), Modern Critical Views: Herman Melville, (New York, 1986), p. 231.

[40] Brodtkorb Jr P, 'Ishmael: The Nature and Forms of Despair', Bloom, op.cit., p. 91.

[41] Dillingham WB, 'The Narrator of Moby Dick', Bowen JK and Vanderbeets R (eds.), A Critical Guide to Herman Melville: Abstracts of Forty Years of Criticism, (Glenview, Illinois, 1971), p. 26.

[42] Whitman W, 'Song of Myself', l. 70, Selected Poems and Prose, ed. Jeffares AN, (London, 1966), p. 8.

[43] This is explored in Chapter Four.

[44] Vogel D, 'The Dramatic Chapters in Moby Dick', Nineteenth-Century Fiction 13, (December, 1958), p. 239. These chapters can be divided into a five act play, (see Appendix, p. 53).

[45] Ibid.

[46] Ibid.

[47] Ibid., p. 241.

[48] Ibid., p. 247.

[49] Olson C, Call Me Ishmael, (San Francisco, 1947), p. 68.

[50] Stewart GR, 'The Two Moby Dicks', American Literature 25, (January, 1954), pp. 417-448.

[51] Olson, op.cit., p. 35.

[52] Ibid., p. 53.

[53] Porter C, 'Call Me Ishmael, or How to Make Double-Talk Speak', Brodhead RH (ed.), New Essays on Moby Dick, (Cambridge, 1986), p. 102.

[54] Ibid., p. 80.

[55] McIntosh J, 'The Mariner's Multiple Quest', Brodhead op.cit., p. 25.

[56] Olson, op.cit., p. 66.

[57] Brodhead RH, Hawthorne, Melville and the Novel, (London, 1976), p. 10.

[58] Ibid.

[59] Lee AR, 'Moby Dick: The Tale and the Telling', Pullin F (ed.), New Perspectives on Melville, (Edinburgh, 1978), p. 92.

[60] Babcock CM, 'The Vocabulary of Moby Dick', Bowen and Vanderbeets (eds.), op.cit., p. 15.

[61] Lee, op.cit., p. 93.

[62] Ward JA, 'The Function of the Cetological Chapters in Moby Dick', American Literature 28, (May 1956), p. 168.

[63] Ibid.

[64] Olson C, Call Me Ishmael, (San Francisco, 1947), p. 67.

[65] Ibid.

[66] Vincent HP, The Trying-Out of Moby Dick, (Massachusetts, 1949), p. 125.

[67] Melville H, Moby Dick, or The Whale, ed. Tanner T, (Oxford, 1988), p. 133. Subsequent references appear parenthetically in the text.

[68] Ibid., p. 297: 'Out of the trunk, the branches grow; out of them the twigs. So, in productive subjects, grow the chapters.'

[69] p168 Ward op.cit

[70] Brodtkorb Jr P, 'Ishmael: The Nature and Forms of Despair', Bloom H (ed.), Modern Critical Views: Herman Melville, (New York, 1986), p. 91.

[71] Porter C, 'Call Me Ishmael, or How to Make Double-Talk Speak', Brodhead RH (ed.), New Essays on Moby Dick, (Cambridge, 1986), p. 95.

[72] Ibid., p. 96.

[73] Short RW, 'Melville as Symbolist', Bowen JK and Vanderbeets R (eds.), A Critical Guide to Herman Melville: Abstracts of Forty Years of Criticism, (Glenview, Illinois, 1971), p. 32.

[74] Brodhead RH, Hawthorne, Melville and the Novel, (London, 1976), p. 139.

[75] Drabble M (ed.), The Oxford Companion to English Literature 5th Edition, (Oxford, 1985), p. 647a: 'Moby Dick is the closest approach the United States has had to a national prose epic.'

[76] Vincent, op.cit., p. 123.

[77] Ward, op.cit., p. 173.

[78] Arvin N, Herman Melville, (New York, 1950), p. 154.

[79] Porter, op.cit., p. 98.

[80] See note 75.

[81] Olson, op.cit., p. 19.

[82] Ibid., p. 17.

[83] Ward, op.cit., 182.

[84] Lee, op.cit., p. 91.

[85]Spanos WV, The Errant Art of Moby Dick: the canon, the Cold War and the struggle for American studies, (London, 1995), p. 75.

[86] Melville H, Moby Dick, or The Whale, ed. Tanner T, (Oxford, 1988), p. 328. Subsequent references appear parenthetically in the text.

[87] Vincent HP, The Trying-Out of Moby Dick, (Massachusetts, 1949), p. 56.

[88] Brodtkorb Jr P, 'Ishmael: The Nature and Forms of Despair', Bloom H (ed.), Modern Critical Views: Herman Melville, (New York, 1986), p. 103.

[89] Sitney PA, 'Ahab's Name: a reading of 'The Symphony'', Bloom op.cit., p. 231.

[90] Brodhead RH, Hawthorne, Melville and the Novel, (London, 1976), p. 20.

[91] Sitney, op.cit., p. 233.

[92] Brodhead, op.cit., p. 152.

[93] Porter C, 'Call Me Ishmael, or How to Make Double-Talk Speak', Brodhead RH (ed.), New Essays on Moby Dick (Cambridge, 1986), p. 81.

[94] Olson, C Call Me Ishmael, (San Francisco, 1947), p. 58.

[95] Letter to Nathaniel Hawthorne, 17(?) November 1851, Leyda, J (ed.) The Portable Melville (New York, 1952), p. 453.

[96] Melville H 'Hawthorne and his Mosses', Leyda, J (ed.) The Portable Melville (New York, 1952), p. 413.

[97] Letter to Sophia Hawthorne, 8 January 1852, Leyda, J (ed.) The Portable Melville (New York, 1952), p. 455.

[98] Letter to Nathaniel Hawthorne, 1(?) June 1851, Leyda, J (ed.) The Portable Melville (New York), p. 430.

[99] Melville op.cit., p. 410.

[100] Ibid.

[101] Ibid., p. 408.

[102] Letter to Nathaniel Hawthorne, 17(?) November, 1851, Leyda op.cit., p. 454.