ladychapel: Blue Moon (Default)
Thursday, August 4th, 2011 12:31 pm
I finally finished reading Moby Dick (after putting it aside several times.) Thanks to all who put up with my commentary on each chapter when I first started reading it. I discontinued posting about it here and switched over to making handwritten notes in each chapter as I finished it. Doing that helped me stay engaged with the book. I've heard that's a good approach to tackling any challenging novel. I might try that when I make another attempt at Ulysses.

TV Tropes summaries Melville's work this way:

"Described by many as the greatest American novel, Moby-Dick; or, The Whale, by Herman Melville, is either a story about the hunt of a wicked whale by a madman that shows Melville's work, or an encyclopedia on whaling and cetology with a Framing Device. You choose."

That's a valid observation. The seemingly endless chapters on whale biology are where I get bogged down in the book and not because I'm not interested in the topic. I'm fascinated by whales and actually took a class in marine biology in college.

It is also a strongly masculine book. There are no female characters of any consequence. That can sometimes make it a little difficult for me to get into a book.

Overall, though, I am pleased to have read it. The parts that focus on Ahab and his obsession and Melville's existential musings make it unforgettable.

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ladychapel: Blue Moon (Moby Dick)
Monday, November 23rd, 2009 05:58 pm
After consulting Yojo, one of his pagan deities, Queequeg insists that it’s up to Ishmael to pick out a whaling ship for them to work on. Ishmael reluctantly agrees, not really trusting his own judgment, and finds a ship that he likes, an old, unusually built ship that made use of whale teeth and bone in its construction. That would be the Pequod, named for an extinct Indian tribe.

He signs on with the ship’s two primary owners, and they tell him about the ship’s captain, a man named Ahab who lost his leg during his last whaling voyage when “it was devoured, chewed up, crunched by the monstrousest parmacetty that ever chipped a boat.”

When Ishmael notes that this captain is named for an evil king in the Bible, the ship’s owners quickly come to his defense, saying that Ahab is a good man, a married man with a child. It’s not his fault that his crazy mother gave him such an unfortunate name. They describe Ahab’s virtues in greater detail: “He’s a grand, ungodly, godlike man, Captain Ahab; doesn’t speak much; but when he does speak, then you may well listen. Mark ye, be forewarned; Ahab’s above the common; Ahab’s been in colleges, as well as ‘mong the cannibals; been used to deeper wonders than the waves; fixed his fiery lance in mightier, stranger foes than whales.”

Still, some people do think Ahab is a little odd, especially after the loss of his leg. “I know, too, that ever since he lost his leg last voyage by that accursed whale, he’s been a kind of moody – desperate moody, and savage sometimes; but that will all pass off.”

Yes, of course, sure it will, as if we didn't know.
ladychapel: Blue Moon (Moby Dick)
Friday, November 13th, 2009 10:57 pm
Upon their arrival in Nantucket, Ishmael and Queequeg check into the Try Pots inn, which is run by the innkeeper's wife. The inn is known for the clam and cod chowders that it serves.

When they arrive, Ishmael notices two pots hanging from an old mast outside the inn. The sight reminds him of a gallows, and we see his morbid streak again: "Perhaps I was over sensitive to such impressions at the time, but I could not help staring at this gallows with a vague misgiving. A sort of crick was in my neck as I gazed up to the two remaining horns; yes, two of them, one for Queequeg and one for me. 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!"

These dark thoughts recede once he tastes the clam chowder: "It was made of small juicy clams, scarcely bigger than hazel nuts, mixed with pounded ship biscuit, and salted pork cut up into little flakes; the whole enriched with butter, and plentifully seasoned with pepper and salt."

Now, that makes me hungry. I want to make clam chowder for myself soon.
ladychapel: Blue Moon (Moby Dick)
Tuesday, November 10th, 2009 12:51 pm
Ishmael and Queequeeg finally arrive at Nantucket. This short chapter describes the island and its natives, natural seamen according to the book, in great detail. There are many exaggerated legends describing how difficult life is on the island. "But these extravaganzas only show that Nantucket is no Illinois."
ladychapel: Blue Moon (Moby Dick)
Monday, November 9th, 2009 03:13 pm
Ishmael and Queequeg finally leave New Bedford together and set sail for Nantucket. Their unlikely, close friendship draws attention from people.

On the voyage to Nantucket, his new friend further impresses Ishmael by rescuing a man who had been teasing Queequeg. The man fell overboard. Queequeg dove in after him and saved him from drowning.

After this, Ishmael says, "From that hour I clove to Queequeg like a barnacle; yea, till poor Queequeg took his last long dive." This gives us the first hint of harponeer's fate.
ladychapel: Blue Moon (Moby Dick)
Monday, November 9th, 2009 12:44 am
Queequeg is actually a pagan prince from the island of Kokovoko or so he tells Ishmael. Melville describes the location vaguely: "It is not down in any map; true places never are."

Queequeg left the island because he developed an insatiable desire to see and explore Christendom. However, he becomes disenchanted with Christians, as Ishmael has, because he soon sees that "even Christians could be both miserable and wicked; infinitely more so, than all his father's heathens."

He remains a harpooneer anyway, though, because he feels unworthy to return home.
ladychapel: Blue Moon (Moby Dick)
Wednesday, November 4th, 2009 10:42 am
Melville wrote very short chapters. That's one reason this book has over a 100 of them. This chapter is one of the briefest. Ishmael and Queequeg are passing the night comfortably snug in their bed. Ishmael encourages his friend to tell him his life story, which he will begin doing in the next chapter.
ladychapel: Blue Moon (Moby Dick)
Tuesday, November 3rd, 2009 02:19 pm
Ishmael returns to his room and finds Queequeg who had left the service early. In this chapter, Ishmael forges a strong bond with Queequeg that they both liken to marriage. Ishmael needs to overcome his wariness to do so. "You cannot hide the soul. Through all his unearthly tattooings, I thought I saw the traces of a simple honest heart; and in his large, deep eyes, fiery black and bold, there seemed tokens of a spirit that would dare a thousand devils," Ishmael says about his friend, and he compares him to George Washington. "Queequeg was George Washington cannibalistically developed."

Ishmael is Presbyterian, but he seems to be slightly disillusioned with his church or at least how he's seen the faith practiced. "I'll try a pagan friend, thought I, since Christian kindness has proved but hollow courtesy."

Queequeg gives him the embalmed head he carries as a present and half of the $30 in silver in his wallet. Obvious symbolism there. Ishmael wants to share some of his Christian faith with his friend, but he's also giving up some of it and taking on some of Queequeg's pagan worship.
ladychapel: Blue Moon (Moby Dick)
Sunday, November 1st, 2009 02:46 pm
This was a longer chapter than the last, and I was somewhat distracted while reading it. It focuses on Father Mapple's sermon about the story of Jonah. Ishmael listens to it but doesn't have much of a reaction to it. It talks a lot about Jonah's ordeal, which ends only when he folows God's will, which is: "To preach the Truth to the face of Falsehood."
ladychapel: Blue Moon (Moby Dick)
Thursday, October 29th, 2009 02:03 am
This was a very short chapter focusing on the entrance of Father Mapple, the chaplain. It describes the pulpit he uses to deliver his sermons, which is designed to resemble the bow of a ship, complete with rope ladder rather than stairs to climb up. Ishmael ponders why it is made to look like this.

"What could be more full of meaning? - for the pulpit is ever this earth's foremost part; all the rest comes in its rear; the pulpit leads the world. From thence it is the storm of God's quick wrath is first descried, and the bow must bear the earliest brunt. From thence it is the God of breezes fair or foul is first invoked for favorable winds. Yes, the world's a ship on its passage out, and not a voyage complete; and the pulpit is its prow."
ladychapel: Blue Moon (Moby Dick)
Wednesday, October 28th, 2009 02:12 am
Oh, it's been a while since I picked up Moby Dick. I am going through it so slowly. That's ok, though. I want to savor each chapter. That's why I'm posting a little about each, pointing out some passages that I like.

Ishmael hasn't set sail yet. He visits the Whaleman's Chapel in New Bedford and finds sailors, their wives, and their widows in attendance. Queequeg is there, which surprises him since he's a heathen.

He notices some memorials to sailors lost at sea, frequently while trying to kill whales who end up getting the upper hand. This gets him to brooding over death and puts him in a gloomy mood. He manages to pull out of it, though. "But Faith, like a jackal, feeds among the tombs, and even from these dead doubts she gathers her most vital hope."

Ishmael is a man of faith, and he takes comfort in the thought of an afterlife for his immortal soul, even if he doesn't understand it fully.

"Methinks that in looking at things spiritual, we are too much like oysters observing the sun through the water, and thinking that thick water the thinnest of air. Methinks my body is but the lees of my better being. In fact take my body who will, take it I say, it is not me. And therefore three cheers for Nantucket; and come a stove boat and stove body when they will, for stave my soul, Jove himself cannot."
ladychapel: Blue Moon (Moby Dick)
Monday, August 10th, 2009 10:10 pm
After breakfast, Ishmael strolls through New Bedford sightseeing. "In summer time, the town is sweet to see; full of fine maples - long avenues of green and gold. And in August, high in air, the beautiful and bountiful horse-chestnuts, candelabra-wise, proffer the passer-by their tapering upright cones of congregated blossoms."
ladychapel: Blue Moon (Moby Dick)
Sunday, August 9th, 2009 04:18 pm
Ishmael has a good sense of humor and laughs off the night's misadventures. At breakfast, he notices that all the whalemen around the table seem surprisingly shy. Queequeg is an exception. He commandeers the head of the table and pulls a serving of rare steaks to himself with his harpoon. "But that was certainly very cooly done by him, and every one knows that in most people's estimation, to do anything coolly is to do it genteelly," says Ishmael.

I've been crossposting these observations about what I'm reading from Dreamwidth to LJ. I just discovered today I can choose the same icon in both journals if they use the same keyword. I like that. I'm going to use my old dove icon for crossposting.
ladychapel: Blue Moon (Moby Dick)
Wednesday, August 5th, 2009 06:58 pm
This was a short but funny chapter. Ishmael is dismayed when he wakes up to find Queequeg's arm thrown over him as if the two were married. Then, his strange new friend gets out of bed and proceeds to give himself a morning shave with his harpoon.

There's also a hint that Ishmael's childhood was not a happy one. His stepmother "was all the time whipping me, or sending me to bed supperless."

After being sent early to bed once, little Ishmael had a frightening moment when he woke and thought he felt a "supernatural" ghost-like hand holding his own. Afterwards, the little boy had no idea what he encountered, and it troubled him throughout his life. "Nay, to this very hour, I often puzzle myself with it."
ladychapel: Blue Moon (Moby Dick)
Tuesday, August 4th, 2009 12:48 am
There's no room at the inn so Ishmael has to share a bed with a mysterious, tattooed, heathen harponeer who has been going around town selling embalmed heads. That would be Queequeg. Ishmael is at first reluctant to bunk with such a man but eventually agrees. "Better sleep with a sober cannibal than a drunken Christian," he reasons.
ladychapel: Blue Moon (Moby Dick)
Saturday, August 1st, 2009 03:16 am
Ishmael arrives in New Bedford and is immediately disappointed that he has missed the ship to Nantucket. He has his heart set on starting his whaling journey in Nantucket, the "great original."

The next ship won't leave for a few days so he needs a place to stay. He wanders around a cold New Bedford night, practically broke, looking for a cheap inn. At one point, he accidentally walks in on a Black prayer service where "the preacher's text was about the blackness of darkness, and the weeping and wailing and teeth-gnashing there."

Finally, he finds "The Spouter-Inn" owned by Peter Coffin. He finds both names disconcerting. Curiously, as the chapter ends, he appears to start referring to himself as Lazarus as he contemplates spending the night there. Or perhaps he is using the name generically to refer to any person who might have to sleep at the inn.
ladychapel: Blue Moon (Moby Dick)
Thursday, July 23rd, 2009 02:17 pm
I haven't been reading much fiction in the past few years. I started Emma by Jane Austin sometime last year, I think, and still haven't finished it. I already know the story from the Gwyneth Paltrow film, but I liked the movie well enough to want to read the book. However, since it's not urgent that I finish it right away, I only read a chapter here and a chapter there. I'm up to chapter 32.

I've owned a copy of Moby Dick for about two years but haven't read it. I've read parts of the book before but decided to purchase it thinking it would commit me to finish it. It didn't. It's not the easiest book to read, after all. Yesterday, though, I had the sudden urge to pick it up again. Maybe because I've been to the shore a few times lately. The sea is on my mind.

I read the first chapter last night. "Call me Ishmael." One of the most famous first lines of a book almost sounds like Ishmael is an alias. Ishmael has a melancholy streak. The only thing that alleviates it is going to sea. "This is my substitute for pistol and ball. With a philosophical flourish Cato throws himself upon his sword; I quietly take to the ship."