Orphans, Oceans, and <i>Moby-Dick</i>

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Other Title
  • 『白鯨』の海,棄子の夢
  • 『白鯨』の海,棄子(すてご)の夢
  • 『 シロクジラ 』 ノ ウミ,キコ(ステゴ)ノ ユメ

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Abstract

<p>In Herman Melville’s Moby-Dick; Or, the Whale, Ishmael’s self-recognition as a castaway is one shared with Ahab the tyrant, Ishmael’s double. Captain Ahab seeks to revenge himself upon Moby Dick in order to satisfy his sense of loss as an orphan. Properly speaking, however, his vindictive venture cannot result in success. When someone tries to inflict vengeance on another, in general that means one is seeking to build an equal relationship, which is an undertaking that cannot end in success. It could be said, therefore, that Ahab’s voyage in pursuit of the white whale does “succeed” ― through terminating the nightmare about his own finiteness ― in bringing his own self-hatred to an end.</p><p>As for Ishmael’s sense of being a castaway, Leslie A. Fiedler suggests in Love and Death in the American Novel (1960) that his relationship with Queequeg on shore before the Pequod sets sail serves to ease and heal his pains. At sea, however, Ishmael continues to nurture feelings of abandonment. In Chapter 87, “The Grand Armada,” for instance, he observes the mothers and children of whales as they “serenely reveled in dalliance and delight” in contrast to his own sense of being adrift “amid the tornadoed Atlantic.” It seems that Ishmael’s sentiments are divided by sea and land, and that he is not restored from the “illness” of being sentimental at all.</p><p>Harrison Hayford attempts an analysis of “unnecessary duplicates” in the text to develop a hypothesis that the homosexual bond between Ishmael and Queequeg was probably generated in the final stage of Melville’s composition. This supposition can be further developed by examining Ishmael’s process of recovery from the trauma of being a castaway. Ishmael can only become aware of his feelings of guilt, that is, his sense of abandoning the stepmother on shore, when he is embraced by a maternal figure, the Rachel that, “in her retracing search after her missing children, only found another orphan.” It is in the “Epilogue” that Ishmael discovers that it is she, not himself, who weeps with the pain of being abandoned.</p><p>Fiedler calls Moby-Dick “perhaps the greatest love story” in American fiction, a story of “innocent homosexuality.” It is also a love story between a mother and a son, the latter of whom bears the guilt of abandoning her and seeks to expiate it. Here too is described the pursuit of the paradoxical redemptions of two castaways, Ishmael and Ahab: one experiences cyclically the trauma of shore to sea, and again back to shore, while the other in a linear fashion cruises across the oceans in search of salvation, and so to bring his nightmare to an end.</p>

Journal

  • The American Review

    The American Review 46 (0), 19-32, 2012-03-25

    The Japanese Association for American Studies

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