Views on Mysterious Color in Moby Dick
by Wang Zhi
American Literature Renmin University of China
Advisor: Professor Chen Shidan December 25, 2009
One of the greatest writers in American literary history in particular for his masterpiece Moby Dick, Herman Melville has gathered increasing fame. Moby Dick is widely regarded as the summit of American nineteenth-century fictions with heart-shaking whaling experience, philosophical meditation of realism and fantasy, invested with the mysterious color of romance. The thesis intends to analyze the embodiment, cause and significance of mysterious color in the novel. What’s more important is that the writer has borrowed Northrop Frye’s critic theory called Myth criticism or Archetypal criticism and Jungian psychology to lay the theoretical basis for the first chapter and also set up for the whole thesis a holistic structure and organization.
A. Embodiment of Mystical Color in Moby Dick
In Webster’s New World College Dictionary, the word “mystic” means “beyond human comprehension; mysterious or enigmatic” and in the second entry under the word “mystical,” it interprets the word as “of mystics of mysticism; especially relating to or based on intuition, contemplation, or meditation of a spiritual nature” (Agnes 954).
According to Steven Fanning, “mysticism is the direct intuition or experience of God or every religious tendency that discovers the direct way to God through inner experience without the meditation of reasoning. The constitutive element in mysticism is immediacy of contact with the deity” (Fanning 2).
... in the canons of American and world literature as a great classic. Through the symbols employed by Melville, Moby-Dick studies man? s ... (Arvin 221-222). In Chapter LI, the Pequod sights a mysterious silvery jet of water obviously emanating from a whale. The ... is his titanic power and his pyramidical white hump. His color, white, has signified a special sanctity; and Melville devotes an ...
This definition emphasizes the direct communion with God. In Christianity, this experience usually takes the form of a vision or sense of union with God.
Many attempts have been made to describe the fundamental characteristics of mystical experience. Traditionally, it has been asserted that the experiential union of creature and Creator is inexpressible and ineffable, although those who have experienced it seek imaginary and metaphors to describe it, however imperfectly. Fire, an interior journey, the dark night of the soul, a knowing that is an unknowing—such are the images or descriptions used for communicating the mystical experiences.
In Moby Dick, the union, the essence of mysticism, is not seen in a direct manner, but it is in meditation—in the form of psychological movements of its characters, with some external symbols or signs as the intermedium that it is achieved in the state of harmony. That is to say, some characters and symbolic designs in Moby Dick are colored with a heavy mystical atmosphere.
As for the category of archetypes, different scholars have different ideas. In a broad sense, archetypes fall into two major parts: characters and images or symbols. Characters such as the hero, the outcast, the scapegoat, the prophet and the star-crossed lovers; images or symbols such as water, sun, the death, the quest, the initiation and the loss of innocence.
Ahab—Hero Archetype and Biblical Archetype
Analyzing a hero from archetypal approaches, we can find that Ahab conforms to Hero Archetype. Hero archetype refers to the one who is always running in and saving the day. Exactly, Ahab is a Quest Archetype and Tragic Hero.
The Quest Archetype is the character who is searching for something, whether consciously or unconsciously. Their actions, thoughts and feelings center on the goal for completing this quest. In Moby Dick, superficially, Captain Ahab is now totally absorbed in great hatred and swears to take revenge on Moby Dick, a white whale that tortures him both physically and spiritually. Seized by rage and hatred, Ahab converts a simply commercial voyage into his private revengeful quest for the whale. To Ahab, the White Whale conceals some greater and more mysterious power and represents the impossibility behind the superficial layers of nature or reality. Ahab’s quest is the quest in an archetypal pattern: “the hero undertakes some long journey during which he or she must perform impossible tasks, battle with monsters, solve unanswerable riddles, and overcome insurmountable obstacles in order to save the kingdom” (Guerin 166).
... normal life • Relationship with Lois Lane • Purpose • Responsibility Conclusion The hero archetype is a part of each and everyone of us regardless ... that surround them. The creation of these heroes follows a path known as the heroes quest, in which certain steps are taken ... Zone by Jor-El (superman’s father) • Terrorizes Superman in quest for vengeance • Lex Luther • Powerful businessman hell bent on ...
As far as Ahab is concerned, the unanswerable riddle is symbol of energy and mystery. He struggles to seek that inscrutable thing out.
The Tragic Hero is a longstanding literary archetype, a character with a fatal flaw who is doomed to fail despite his best efforts or good intentions, Aristotle defines tragedy as such, “A tragedy, then, is the imitation of an action that is serious and also, as having magnitude, complete in itself” (Kaplan 348).
The action that Ahab and his crew fight against the White Whale is serious enough. It is symbolically about men’s confrontation against nature and mystery. Additionally, Ahab also possesses some properties just as a Tragic Hero does. For example, he is an ordinary man, someone whom most people can relate to; he goes on a journey; he is a man who has a mixture of good and bad personality traits; he has one major flaw—blindness, which is the cause of his downfall; he has an excessive amount of pride and is challenging the will of God, there is “a tragic counterpart to the vice or tricky slave”, who “may be discerned in the soothsayer or prophet who foresees the inevitable end” (Frye 216).
In other words, though Ahab is animated by a heroic quest, he has also the tragic weaknesses, such as blindness and hubris, which lead to the Tragic Hero’s ultimate failure. As is analyzed above, Ahab is a tragic hero.
A few critical essays have mentioned Melville’s use of The Bible. For example, Lawrence Thompson explicates Moby Dick as a subversive work, “In Moby Dick, Melville expresses his personal independence from the ‘tyranny’ of God and Christian dogma, which could be seen from the fact that Captain Ahab’s and Ishmael’s names are taken from biblical King Ahab and Ishmael” (Thompson 151).
... Hemant h Venkataraman Ahab Essay In Moby Dick, Captain Ahab is a tragic hero. He is the commander in the story, and has ... presence. This excessive pride, or hubris, in Ahab is used in accordance with Melville? s theme of the consequences of trying to ... circumvent predestination. Ahab is attempting to defy God? s will, which ...
Reading through Ahab’s story with Job’s story in mind, we can conclude that Ahab, like Job, falls into a world of suffering and exile; instead of accepting God’s inscrutability and repentance as Job does, he defies God and vows to seek the truth. In contrast to Job’s restoration to his original state, Ahab descends to hell. It is certain that Job’s ordeal is not a punishment but a testing, so does Ahab’s. However, Ahab fails to the testing. Hence, it suffices to say that narrative pattern of Ahab’s story is the inversion of that of Job’s.
Even Ahab’s name, just what is said would “somehow prove prophetic” (Melville 96).
The way that Melville endows the name of his hero with its allegorical meaning will make you thing that Captain Ahab will have something in common with King Ahab in The bible. King Ahab, the seventh king of Israel in “First Kings,” dies miserably. Both Ahabs are blasphemers. On the part of Captain Ahab, he is courting blasphemy through his quest to find Moby Dick and will suffer a tragic end because of his actions. With some hints, King Ahab’s end foreshadows fate of Captain Ahab. To some extent, Melville enters into the worlds of epic and Shakespearean tragedy by describing Captain Ahab as a biblical archetype.
Additionally, Ahab is quite mysterious from the very beginning and we could only see him through a cloud of strange rumors. In the eyes of Captain Peleg, Ahab is a “grand, ungodly god-like man” (Melville 97).
And he is “Ahab of old, a crowned king” (Melville 97).
Generally speaking, Captain Peleg describes him as a queer man, but a good one, simultaneously ungodly and godlike, suggesting that the dynamic between these sides of Ahab’s personality should form the primary internal struggle of Ahab. The mythic connotations to Ahab continue with the reference to him as “Old Thunder,” an allusion to the Norse God of War. Finally, Ahab turns up in Chapter 28 after a long period of foreshadowing by Melville. Then he disappears again, simultaneously, remains omnipresent. So it is safe to say that Ahab’s long-expected appearance is suspense. By doing so, Melville establishes him as an imposing, mysterious and tragic figure, deserving sympathy and sorrow.
In many respects, Melville portrays Ahab as barely human, barely governed by human mores and conventions, and nearly entirely subject to his own obsession with Moby Dick. And most importantly, he claims himself a God over the Pequod. He may be a Satanic figure through his somewhat blasphemous quest against the White Whale. Ahab, simply speaking, is a blasphemous, complicated and conflicting character; at the same time, he is a quest archetype, a tragic hero, a biblical archetype. His multiple personalities lend some mystery to Moby Dick.
... and in his introduction of Captain Ahab he refers to Ahab as, "a crowned king!" (Melville 77) Though Ishmael asks if king Ahab was "a very vile ... is the only one to survive. Because God is willing to save Ishmael, Melville is willing to save him as well; Ishmael ... because he is able to choose his name. Ishmael chooses God as his protector when most other people have a parent ...