Thursday, September 29, 2011

Final Words on Whales

Moby Dick has repeatedly challenged the ideals of the times about whales. It first started with the accepted view, but through Ishmael changed into a more humane, retrospective view on the role the whales play and how they should be classified. Do they feel? Should they be treated as a living being, such as deer, would on land? Are they better than the men who hunt them? All of them questions that have been brought up time and again. Up until the ending, they really did seem the better being, just living life and having that robbed when a harpoon made the critical fatal shot, but having Moby Dick being a mass murderer changes the final impression.
He was hunted down and attacked multiple times by different whaling ships, but is he any better than the men hunting him since he too is a murderer. His actions at the final point seem to be in hopes of saving his own life, but it looks bad on the whales as much as on Ahab. The harpoon ships were the aggressor, not so much the ship. He attacked as a beast from legend would, reinforcing the idea of the time that whales were fantastical monsters lingering in the sea waiting to kill hapless individuals who are just trying to make a living. Did Melville do this on purpose?
Taking into account the way people felt about whales, Melville could have written this in so the audience would still be willing to read and understand what the book was portraying. It could also be a final way for Melville to connect the whales to the humans. Moby Dick’s final act is one of vengeance against those who would hurt him, which is a very human emotion and act. So, does the act truly misrepresent the whales, putting them in a monster-like light, or does it pull together one last string, making the whales a reflection of humans.


  1. Perhaps the idea was for Whales and people to meet somewhere in the middle. They had to abandon etiquette and become something like monsters to be able to understand and hunt another monster.

    The fact that Moby Dick is violent and a murderer suggests he became that from continuous whaling and abuse from mankind. Perhaps he was innocent to begin with and we cursed him. Nevertheless, that journey (becoming a fiend) can be very human-like sometimes, so perhaps he is a great reflection of the fall of mankind.

  2. Nice points. I characterized Moby-Dick as a whale of extraordinary size, capable of doing great damage to a small whaling vessel, as he ultimately does. Still, the fact that swims from danger on occasion speaks to the question of whether he is a monster. Furthermore, this is coming from a whale riddled with harpoons. What is an injured animal going to do when you trap it in a corner? I saw Ishmael's depiction of whales as blurring the lines between who and what is monstrous.