Moby-Dick - The Correlation between chapters examplified in "The Gilder"

Term Paper, 2001
20 Pages

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1. Introduction

2. The Gilder
2.1 Technical Procedure

3. The Weaving-Theme in Moby-Dick
3.1 The Loom
3.2 To Weave
3.3 Lines and Threads
3.4 Texture

4. The Orphan-Theme in Moby-Dick
4.1 Orphans and Foundlings


1. Introduction

“Out of the trunk, the branches grow; out of them, the twigs. So, in productive subjects, grow the chapters.“1

In these introductory sentences of “The Crotch” (ch. 68), Melville tells the reader a lot about the structural construction of his novel Moby- Dick. The picture of a tree which is used here, shows, that it is hard to find one straightly definable structure throughout the novel. Just like the branches and twigs of a tree, the correlation of words, symbols and themes are not at once obvious and visible. They rather grow together, touch each other at the peak and - which is most important - stay in process. So the controlling structure of the book can be seen as an organic complex of shifting and multiple symbols and rhetoric devices.

In the main part of my work, I will go deeper into problem/question of the correlation between the single chapters. As it is hard to find a starting point concerning structural reflections and explanations for the reason given above, I will mainly concentrate on “The Gilder” (ch. 114). Here I will examine the rhetoric and symbolic correlation with other chapters. Which words and symbols are used here and where else in the novel can we find them? In which contexts do they appear? Who refers to them in which way? These are the questions I will try to find an answer to.

But before that, I will give a brief overview of the chapter “The Gilder” as well as the technical procedure of my examinations.

2. The Gilder

The reason why I chose the chapter “The Gilder” as the point of commencement for my examination of the correlation between the chapters in Moby-Dick is the fact, that this is a very crucial chapter in regard to the relationship between Ishmael and Ahab and their different ways of thinking.

Here we can also observe the difference in their reading of symbolic pictures. “With ‘The Gilder’ as a replay of ‘The Doubloon’ and with ‘The Repose of If’ speech assigned now to Ahab, we see a loosening of Ahab’s egoism. In effect, Ahab begins to sound more like Ishmael.”2 Whereas the chapter “The Doubloon” suggests the inevitability and danger of symbolic thinking and the fatality of subjectivism, “The Gilder” presents a rather symbolic view of both Ishmael and Ahab. What Ahab here cannot endure is the “cyclicity of mentalities,”3 the perpetual development “resting at last in manhood’s pondering repose of If.”4

Also the title “The Gilder” needs some attention as its meanings are multiple. A gilder can be a snare, which is especially used for catching birds.5 In this respect, Ahab can be seen as trapped in a snare, which might be here “the repose of If.” A gilder can also be called a person who gilds, that means who covers lesser metals with a thin layer of gold foil. “But Ishmael is not ‘gilding’ in ‘The Gilder’. He is offering us a moment of mystic transcendence as if it were a golden coin or a Dutch ‘gilder’ hidden away in a coffer.”6

2.1 Technical Procedure

The point of commencement for my examinations concerning correlation with the chapter “The Gilder” was the declaration of Walter E. Bezanson, that “there are definable relations between any given chapter and some other chapter or chapters; and these relations tend to be multiple and shifting.“7

The first approach to see if this statement was of any use for further investigation was to find symbolic pictures, single words or word fields which not only occur in “The Gilder” but also in other chapters and if so, I wanted to find out in which contexts they appear and what that means for the individual reading and interpretation of Moby-Dick.

Of course, there are many symbols which are striking at first sight because their meaning in this context might not be obvious to the reader. In the following I want to give a few examples to give a brief insight in the diverse opportunities which are offered here for further investigation.

The picture of “the tiger-heart that pants beneath“ “the ocean’s skin“8 is certainly a symbol whose origin is worth to be traced down. The word “tiger“ is a symbol which is used 12 times in the whole book. Five times out of these 12 it is related to the mysterious “tiger-yellow crew“ that accompanies Ahab in the whaling boat. In the other seven cases, the “tiger“ is not only connected with pictures of ambiguity but also stands for ravenousness, cunningness, majesty and wildness.

Another interesting symbol is represented by the word “glade“, which only occurs three times in the whole novel in total. It is the “grassy glades!,” the “ever vernal landscapes in the soul“9 that Ahab is seeking in his soliloquy in “The Gilder.” The first time that this picture occurs is in “Merry Christmas” (ch. 22). When Ishmael hears Bildad’s song

Sweet fields beyond the swelling flood,

Stand dressed in living green.

So to the Jews old Canaan stood,

While Jordan rolled between.10

he feels reminded of the fact that “there was yet, it then seemed to me, many a pleasant haven in store; and meads and glades so eternally vernal, that the grass shot up by the spring, untrodden, unwilted, remains at midsummer.“11 Here the difference of the two characters and the antagonistic fate they have is once more underlined. The third time, the “glades“ are mentioned is in chapter 105, “Does the Whale’s Magnitude Diminish?” When the whales once will be

hunted from the savannas and glades of the middle seas, the whale-bone whales can at last resort to their Polar citadels, and diving under the ultimate glassy barriers and walls there, come up among icy fields and floes! and in a charmed circle of everlasting December, bid defiance to all pursuit from man.12

So, the word “glade” appears three times and we get three different readings of the word glade. Chronologically, the first reading is by Ishmael, the second by the whales and the third by Ahab. The fact, that these three are the chief characters in Moby-Dick makes it even more likely that there is something beyond.13 There are certainly many other examples for words and symbolic pictures in “The Gilder” which can be connected to other chapters and other contexts or which are referred to other characteristics. One thing which became obvious here is the fact that the relations between the chapters and with them the symbols which occur there are indeed multiple and shifting, just as Bezanson suggested.

As mentioned above, the given examples should only serve as a brief overview of the diverse correlation between the chapters and the complexity of the words and their meanings in Moby-Dick. To go deeper into this topic, I want to concentrate especially on two other examples of symbolic pictures which can also be found in “The Gilder.” On the one hand, these are the pictures which are connected with the weaving-theme. On the other hand, it is the orphan-theme. Both are very substantial for the novel and the structural development of it, which I will try to prove in the following chapters of this work.

3. The Weaving-Theme in Moby-Dick

The weaving-theme is a line of thought which is “interwoven“ into the novel. It is presented to the reader in several contexts and chapters and it is represented by different expressions that are in some way or other connected with the picture of interwoven lines and threads.

The starting point for the search of weaving pictures is a sentence which Ahab expresses in his soliloquy in “The Gilder:” “But the mingled, mingling threads of life are woven by warp and woof: calms crossed by storms, a storm for every calm.“14 The context for this phrase is Ahab’s sight of the calm sea which evokes the memory in him of “the ever vernal landscapes in the soul“15 which he is seeking and on which he would like to rest, but he becomes clear of the fact “that there is no steady unretracing progress in this life“16. For him life is but an eternal repetition of different levels of belief, “resting at last in manhood’s pondering repose of If.“17 He goes on with his reflections which lead him to man’s unknown origin and unknown ending.

Concerning the rhetoric level of the sentence “But the mingled, mingling threads of life are woven by warp and woof: calms crossed by storms, a storm for every calm.“ one can easily observe the poetic structure which is well exemplified here. This passage can as well be set in blank verse which makes the poetic even more obvious:

But the mingled, mingling threads of life

are woven by warp and woof:

calms crossed by storms,

a storm for every calm.

Here we can find alliterations in the first two lines. The third line starts with “calm“ and ends with “storm“, whereas the fourth line starts with “storm“ and ends with “calm“. The repetition of the verb “mingle“ in the expression “the mingled, mingling threads“ not only supports the idea of deeply interwoven lines (of thought) that build a strong fabric or a net-like weave. It also gives the phrase a poetic style “because the rhythms here play over an abstract metrical pattern, as in poetry, they are evenly controlled - too evenly perhaps for prose, and the tone seems ’literary‘.“18

Having just discussed the symbolic picture of weaving as it occurs in “The Gilder,” I now like to draw near my task of finding the correlation of the weaving-theme with other chapters. As it is a very complex topic, I would like to cut this theme into practicable portions of different expressions which are all linked with the picture of weaving. These expressions, as they occur in the novel, are as follows:

a) The Loom
b) to weave
c) Lines and Threads
d) Texture

In the following, I will name the chapters and present the contexts in which the expressions named above occur. In some cases, I will mark expressions and phrases which are quoted from the novel as hypertext- links (underlined in the text) to the computer-version of Moby-Dick, to enable the reader of the computer version of this work, to have quick access to the corresponding source in the novel. Please note, that the page numbers of the computer-version of Moby-Dick differ from the page numbers of the Penguin version of the novel, which are referred to in the footnotes.

3.1 The Loom

The expression “loom“ appears in a total of nine times in the whole novel plus the expression “Loomings“, which is the title of the first chapter of the novel. The fact that Melville used this highly ambiguous expression implies, that it needs further investigation.

First, the loom is a machine in which yarn or thread is woven into a fabric.19

It is also a “seaman’s term for the indistinct and exaggerated appearance or outline of an object when it first comes into view, as the outline of land on the horizon or an object seen through the mist or darkness.”20 This interpretation stands in connection to the “dim, random way”21 in which Ishmael tries to explain his reading of the horrors of whiteness. A fact which supports the assumption, that Melville was very well aware of the double meaning of the word looming, can be found in chapter 53, “The Gam.“ Here, he gives the reader a dictionary definition of the word gam, which shows to what extend Ishmael calculates his language.

In this connection, it should not be left unmentioned that the word loom is an obsolete expression for the penis, but as it was last used in the 16th century, I am not sure if this is of any value for my task.

The second time, the word “loom“ appears in the book is in chapter 47, “The Mat-Maker”. This whole chapter deals with the weaving-theme, when Ishmael and Queequeg are busy weaving a sword-mat. Here, the reader gets the picture of the different fates of the fellow shipmen being interwoven into one complex texture: “So still and subdued and yet somehow preluding was all the scene, and such an incantation of revelry lurked in the air, that each silent sailor seemed resolved into his own invisible self.“22 While weaving the threads together, Ishmael tells us that for him “it seemed as if this were the Loom of Time, and I myself were a shuttle mechanically weaving and weaving away at the Fates.“23 Once he started to draw the picture of the “Loom of Time,“ Ishmael now specifies this comparison. He considers the warp, with which he is working, as necessity and the sword, that is Queequegs weaving-tool, as free will or chance.

The straight warp of necessity, not to be swerved from its ultimate course [...]; free will still free to ply her shuttle between given threads; and chance, though restrained in its play within the right lines of necessity, and sideways in its motions directed by free will, though thus prescribed to by both, chance by turns rules either, and has the last featuring blow at events.24

Here the reader already gets a notion of the fate of the Peequod. Once on her course, she seems to be heading toward an unalterable destination. Of course, one can conclude that Ahab’s plan must fail, but at this early stage of the journey, it is still chance which might turn the rudder, because it “has the last featuring blow at events.“25 Analysing the mat-making scene, we also have to take into consideration in which context it is imbedded. Therefore, I want to take a closer look at the previous chapter, “Surmises”. This chapter is related to Ahab‘s considerations how to manipulate the crew, to serve his only purpose, namely to catch Moby Dick. Therefore, “the hunt should in some way be stripped of that strange imaginative impiousness which naturally invested it; that the full terror of the voyage must be kept withdrawn into the obscure background.“26 Ahab has to make the crew believe, that their most important aim is to hunt whales and make money. It is Ahab’s cunningness that tells him that his crew “must also have food for their more common, daily appetites.“27 But what do Ahab’s considerations have to do with the weaving scene? In Surmises, Ahab starts interweaving the single threads of the fates of his crew with his own. In this context, it is not surprising that we can find the first view of a whale right after the mat-weaving scene in the Mat-Maker, which is continued in chapter 48, The First Lowering.

The next time we come across the expression “loom“ in the novel is in chapter 60, “The Line”. Here, the word “loom“ refers to “the part between the blade and the handle of an oar.“28

Once more we come across the word “loom“ in chapter 93, “The Castaway”. This is the scene, where Pip falls out of the boat and vanishes, but before that, we are told by Ishmael, that Pip, in his agony, “saw God‘ s foot upon the treadle of the loom, and spoke it; and therefore his shipmates called him mad.“29 It is again the picture of God, weaving the single threads of human lives to one fabric.

In chapter 102, “A Bower in the Arsacides”, we can even find the word “loom“ mentioned five times within only one page. In this chapter, Ishmael wants to prove his practical knowledge about the anatomy of the whale-skeleton by telling the reader a rather weird story about a friend, who was once king of some Arsacidean island. There he had had the opportunity to examine the skeleton of a great Sperm-Whale, which was hung in a temple as a piece of artwork. In front of this background, Ishmael describes the surrounding, the trees and the bushes, flowers, ferns and grasses which are interwoven with the skeleton. Here, it is God again, who is addressed with “busy weaver! unseen weaver!“30 The gigantic skeleton, “the mighty idler“, seemed to be God, “the cunning weaver“31, to Ishmael. With this symbolic picture the ambiguity of things is once more underlined. “Life folded Death; Death trellised Life“32 is the final conclusion of Ishmael, from which it can be deducted that Good and Evil are not necessarily contradictory but rather belong together. Just as Ishmael states in “Nightgown” (ch. 11), that “there is no quality in this world that is not what it is merely by contrast. Nothing exists in itself.“33

3.2 To Weave

To find the connection to the picture of interwoven threads that build a fabric, it is of course useful to trace down the usage of the expressions “weave“, “weaving“, “weaver“ and “woven“.

The dictionary tells us, that the word “weave“ is not only used in the sense of fabricating a material by interlacing yarns in a continuous web34 but also in a figurative context, e.g. in metaphorical expressions relating to the contriving of plots or deception. Another possible meaning of “weave“ is the repeated swaying of a body or a ship from side to side. It is also possible to “weave“ a hand or a flag in order to give signals.

Of course, the expression “weaver“ is used in similarly many senses. This expressions not only refers to the workman whose occupation is weaving textile fabrics. It is also related, in a metaphorical sense, to somebody who contrives, constructs or plans something.35

Forms of “weave“ appear in a total of 25 times in the whole novel. It is not surprising, that we find strikingly many interdependencies in chapter 47, “The Mat-Maker.” But I would like to start my examinations in the chronological manner just like I did before.

The first time, the reader of Moby-Dick comes across a grammatical form of “weave“ is in chapter 26, “Knights and Squires.” When Ishmael describes himself as somebody who weaves tragic graces around the meanest mariner36, the expression is used in a metaphorical sense.

The next time, one finds the past participle “woven“ in chapter 40, “Midnight, Forecastle,” when the Tahitan Sailor speaks about his mat, on which he is resting. Using a highly poetic language, he seems to compare his mat with a woman, who was once young and now is old and exhausted.

Going further with the examination, we are once more in chapter 47, “The Mat-Maker,” where Ishmael and Queequeg are weaving a special mat and in this context, Ishmael is drawing the connection between the interwoven threads of a mat and the interwoven threads of fates of single lives. Surprisingly, we find the expression “weaving and weaving away“37 (also here38 ) twice in this context. Surprisingly because there is no such combination with “away“ in the OED. The only picture, which comes to my mind is the idea, that the weaving-procedure, in a sense, takes them away from the presence into some abstract form of being, interwoven into the great fabric of nature.

To the next mentioning of “weave“, there is a comparatively large space within the novel. It is only in chapter 102, “A Bower in the Arsacides,” that we find the symbol of weaving again. Here, the expression is mentioned 11 times. As in chapter 3.1 already mentioned, it is God who Ishmael addresses, when he speaks of the “busy“ and the “unseen weaver.“39 Ishmael seems to seek for an answer to the ultimate question of the meaning of life: “Oh, busy weaver! unseen weaver!- pause!- one word!- whither flows the fabric? what palace may it deck? wherefore all these ceaseless toilings?“40

Apart from the mentioning of the expression “weave“ in “The Gilder,” which I have already discussed in chapter 3 of this work, we find it again in chapter 119, “The Candles,” in connection to a mysterious Aramaic riddle from the Bible. After the masts of the Peequod were set on fire by a lightning, Ishmael tells the reader, that “seldom have I heard a common oath when God’s burning finger had been laid on the ship; when His ‘Mene, Mene, Tekel Upharsin‘ has been woven into the shrouds and the cordage.“41 The “Mene Mene Tekel Upharsin Prophecy“, to which Ishmael refers, occurs in the Bible in Daniel 5:25-28.42 It is related to a mysterious handwriting which can be seen as a message to Belshazzar, King of Babylon. Since Belshazzar was not able to read or to interpret the message, he asked Daniel to interpret the prophecy for him. As the Aramaic words indicate meanings of measurement, it can literally be translated with: “It has been counted and counted, weighed and divided.”43 This prophecy implies that God has appointed and prescribed a fixed end to Belsazzar’s kingdom. That would also imply, that not only kings live and die according to God‘s pleasure but also every human being. Another thing is that this prophecy serves as a sort of consolation for those who seek appeasement for tyranny and cruelty. In front of this background, we might conclude, that every man’s origin and destiny on board the Peequod is fixed and God will punish them according to their sins, with the balance in his hand. However, Ishmael states at the very end of the novel that “I only am escaped to tell thee.“44 This, of course, supports the assumption, that Ishmael’s salvation is not due to his being better or wiser than any of his shipmates, but it can rather be attributed to mere chance.

The last time, the reader encounters the word “woven“ is in chapter 125, “The Log and Line.” Ahab is addressing Pip, telling him: “Thou touchest my inmost centre, boy; thou art tied to me by cords woven by my heart-strings.“45 As Pip “is the embodiment of social alienation,“46 it is not astonishing, that Ahab feels deeply connected with him.

3.3 Lines and Threads

There are so many mentionings of the words “thread“ and “line“, even a whole chapter is dedicated to the latter, that it would hardly be possible or necessary to name and discuss them all. Here, I only want to draw my reader’s attention to some interesting passages where threads and lines occur.

It is in chapter 54, “The Town-Ho’s Story,” were Ishmael uses the word thread in a figurative way. “Interweaving in its proper place this darker thread with the story,“47 he again presents himself as a weaver who is weaving and interweaving the threads of his novel until it becomes a complete text(-ure). The word “thread“ serves as a guide as means of finding a way through a labyrinth or maze, just like in the mythological tale of Theseus in the Cretan Labyrinth.48 But the word “thread“ also corresponds with the picture of the continued course of life, where it is spun and cut off by the fates.49 This is particularly obvious in chapter 47, “The Mat-Maker:” “There lay the fixed threads of the warp subject to but one single, ever returning, unchanging vibration, and that vibration merely enough to admit of the crosswise interblending of other threads with its own.“50

Also the whale’s life is subjected to the thread which can easily be cut off by the fates. After being chased in chapter 81, “The Peequod Meets the Virgin,” the whale hangs a few inches below the whaleboats and Ishmael asks himself: “Seems it credible that by three such thin threads the great Leviathan was suspended like the big weight to an eight day clock.“51 The three threads are the ropes by which the whale is connected to the three whaleboats and thus connected with the fates of the inmates of the whaleboats. The picture which also arises here is that of a puppet on a string: the whale’s free will is destroyed and he is now subordinated to the whalemen.

3.4 Texture

Although one can find a lot of symbolic pictures of the weaving- theme, it is surprising that the word “texture“ only occurs once in the whole book. Therefore, I now want to take a closer look onto this particular expression and the context in which it is presented.

The one and only mentioning of ”texture” we find in chapter 29, “Enter Ahab; to Him, Stubb.“ As the Peequod has left the Arctic Seas and has entered Tropic areas ”all the witcheries of that unwaning weather did not merely lend new spells and potencies to the outward world. Inward they turned upon the soul.“52 So, it is not surprising that Ahab was not untouched by this change of the natural circumstances: “And all these subtle agencies, more and more they wrought on Ahab's texture.“53

The expression “texture“ implies that there is an underlying woven fabric, with which Ahab’s character is comparable. The fact that “texture“ is exclusively attributed to Ahab, supports the assumption that he has got a particularly multilayered and complex mind. The word “texture“ is also used in a figurative way in order to underline that the constitution or character of something results from the composition of various qualities.54 But if Ahab has got this particularly complex disposition, what are its constituent parts?

Approaching an answer to this question, it might be helpful to examine why “these subtle agencies” ”wrought” on Ahab’s texture. The expression ”wrought” is an archaic past participle form of ”to work”. It is also used in order to describe metals or metalwork which are shaped and elaborated by hammering with tools. From this point of view, Ahab seems to have a surface made of base metals as opposed to the gilder, who may be interpreted as a person who gilds or covers lesser metals with gold foil. In “The Gilder” we get to know, that the scenery of the calm blue ocean, which evokes memories of the flowery earth of home in Ishmael and his mates, also has an effect on Ahab. “But if these secret golden keys did seem to open in him his own secret golden treasuries, yet did his breath upon them prove but tarnishing.”55 Here it seems that “Ahab is something of an inverted alchemist whose ironic ‘secret’ is in turning gold into base metals.”56 This assumption is also supported by the fact that the word “tarnish” is used in connection with metals which lose their brilliancy due to corrosion.

In this respect the previous chapter “The Forge” (ch. 113) should be mentioned. Although the blacksmith can “smooth almost any seems and dents,” he cannot smooth Ahab’s “ribbed brows” because his scars are not only visible on the surface but “it has worked down into the bone of [his] skull.”57 So, we can find more than once that Ahab is compared in some manner with base metals rather than with gold.

But what else can be said about Ahab’s multilayered personality? In his soliloquy when describing the doubloon in “The Doubloon” (ch. 99) we get to know, that Ahab has a rather solipsistic view on things: “The firm tower, that is Ahab; the volcano, that is Ahab; the courageous, the undaunted, and victorious fowl, that, too, is Ahab; all are Ahab.“58 Here he is presented as a rather superficial character.

4. The Orphan-Theme in Moby-Dick

The second symbolic picture I would like to introduce here is the orphan-theme, which is also presented in “The Gilder.”

After soliloquising about the circulation of man’s life, Ahab asks himself “where the foundling’s father [is] hidden”59 and compares “our souls” with “orphans whose unwedded mothers die in bearing them.”60 To find an approach to the interpretation of the orphan symbol, I would like to take a closer look onto all other occurrences of the terms “orphan” and “foundling” in the novel.

4.1 Orphans and Foundlings

The orphan-theme is a very crucial one, for we can observe, that Ishmael himself is an orphan in a metaphorical sense. In the Bible, Ishmael is the prototype of a person who is cast away from the Christian society. Even in the first sentence of the novel, the reader is told to “call me [the story-teller] Ishmael.”61 Obviously, Ishmael is not his actual name and he only wants to be called like that. That would imply that he sees himself as some kind of orphan or cast away. We do not get to know anything of Ishmael's origin, nothing about his parents nor about other ancestors. Neither does he tell us anything about why “it is a damp, drizzly November in [his] soul,”62 nor about what he did before he “would sail about a little and see the watery part of the world.”63

But also the character of Ahab can be seen as abandoned. In the Bible, King Ahab`s seventy children got their heads chopped off.64 So, Ahab bears the name of a biblical outcast, just as Ishmael.

Including the mentioning of the expression “orphan” in “The Gilder,” the term occurs in a total of six times in Moby-Dick.

The first time it appears in chapter 2, “The Carpet-Bag,” where Ishmael tells the reader about a rich man who “lives like a Czar in an ice palace made of frozen sighs, and being a president of a temperance society, he only drinks the tepid tears of orphans.“65 This rather strange passage makes more sense, when we take into consideration that Ishmael paraphrases the Bible, referring to Christ’s parable about “Lazarus and the Rich Man:”66

Lazarus was what we would call today, a street person who had become terminally ill. He had nothing. He saw a means of existence outside the home of the rich man. The rich man felt he had done his duty by throwing him the scraps from his table. Also was the rich man allowing this man to sit outside his gate and did not haul him away. Now it happens that both the beggar and the rich man die. The beggar was “carried by the angels into Abraham's bosom”67 while the rich man was only buried and goes to hell. This part of the story is showing that the roles of these two men have changed dramatically. Now, Lazarus is without need and the rich man is in distress. In effect, this parable can be seen as a warning to anybody who is looking down on others, because their state of life could quickly change.

But what does that mean to Ishmael? Maybe he wants to point out, that all things only can be judged subjectively. To the rich man the “fine frosty night” is a wonderful sight and he prays the “northern lights,”68 whereas he asks himself if the poor can “warm his hands by holding them up to the grand northern lights?”69 But in the end, the rich is also an abandoned person who “drinks the tepid tears of orphans.”

The second and third mentioning of the term “orphan” we find in chapter 16, “The Ship.” Here, Ishmael, Captain Bildad and Captain Peleg are negotiating about the lay, Ishmael will receive for his job. As Peleg wants to give Ishmael a much higher lay than Bildad, Bildad reminds Peleg that “thou must consider the duty thou owest to the other owners of this ship- widows and orphans, many of them- and that if we too abundantly reward the labors of this young man, we may be taking the bread from those widows and those orphans.”70

The cruelty and heartlessness of the ocean can be observed here once more, as so many seamen die due to their job. This circumstance brings forth many orphans who are abandoned and in a sense castaways just like Ishmael.

The fourth time one finds the word “orphan” is in chapter 112, “The Blacksmith,” when Ishmael tells us about the fatal past of the blacksmith and his family. After the blacksmith had become seriously addicted to alcohol, it would have been better for his family if he would have died “then had the young widow had a delicious grief, and her orphans a truly venerable, legendary sire to dream of in their after years.“71 But instead of his children becoming orphans, the blacksmith himself became the orphan because his wife and children died.

When Ahab in his soliloquy in chapter 114, “The Gilder,” ponders about the circularity of life, he not only mentions the “orphan” but also the “foundling,” which is not only a child whose father and/or mother had died but whose parents are totally unknown, an abandoned and deserted child. Ahab compares our souls with an orphan: “Our souls are like those orphans whose unwedded mothers die in bearing them: the secret of our paternity lies in their grave, and we must there to learn it.“72 With this phrase and with Ahab’s search for “the foundling's father,“73 it becomes clear to the reader, that Ahab is in search for his final harbour and the safe haven, with which he associates death. And this is the decisive difference to Ishmael, for whom there is “naught beyond.“74

The last time the word “orphan” is in the last chapter, “Etymology.” It is certainly not pure chance, that it is also the last word of the novel. Here the word “orphan” is again related to Ishmael, who is now abandoned and exposed to solitude in the open sea. The circularity of human consciousness, which Ahab cannot endure, is Ishmael’s salvation. This circularity is represented in the structure of the novel by Ishmael being the orphan in the beginning as well as in the end of Moby-Dick.

Ishmael survives Ahab to tell a tale of death and rebirth. “Such is the continuity of life and art.”75


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Lee, A. Robert “Moby-Dick: The Tale and the Telling“. New Perspectives on Melville. Ed. F. Pullin. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 1978, pp. 86-127.

Miller, Edwin H. “Infants, Boys, and Men, and Ifs Eternally - Moby- Dick“. Romanticism. Critical Essays in American Literature. Eds. James Barbour & Thomas Quirk. New York & London: Garland Publishing, Inc., 1986, pp. 289-298.

The Holy Bible in the King James Version. Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 1984.

The Oxford English Dictionary. Eds. James A. H. Murray & Henry Bradley & W. A. Craigie & C. T. Onions. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1970.


1 Herman Melville, Moby-Dick or The Whale, Northwestern Newberry Edition Vol. XI., ed. Harrison Hayford et al. (Evanston: Northwestern University Press, 1988), p. 289.

2 John Bryant, Melville And Repose: The Rhetoric Of Humour In The American Renaissance (New York: Oxford University Press, 1993), p. 206.

3 Bryant, Melville and Repose, p. 207.

4 Moby-Dick, p. 492.

5 Cf. The Oxford English Dictionary IV, eds. James A. H. Murray & Henry Bradley & W. A. Craigie & C. T. Onions (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1970), p. 162.

6 Bryant, Melville and Repose, p. 205.

7 Walter E. Bezanson, “Moby-Dick: Work of Art“, Moby Dick: Centennial Essays, ed. Tyrus Hillway & Luther Mansfield (Dallas: SMU, 1953), p. 667.

8 Moby-Dick, p. 491.

9 Moby-Dick, p. 492.

10 Moby-Dick, p. 104.

11 Moby-Dick, p. 104.

12 Moby-Dick, p. 461.

13 As opposed to Ishmael, for whom there is “naught beyond“

14 Moby-Dick, p. 492.

15 Moby-Dick, p. 492.

16 Moby-Dick, p. 492.

17 Moby-Dick, p. 492.

18 Bezanson, “Moby-Dick: Work of Art“, p. 661.

19 Cf. OED VI, p. 430, 3.

20 OED VI, p. 431, 1.

21 Moby-Dick, p. 188.

22 Moby-Dick, p. 214.

23 Moby-Dick, p. 214.

24 Moby-Dick, p. 215.

25 Moby-Dick, p. 215.

26 Moby-Dick, p. 212.

27 Moby-Dick, p. 212.

28 Cf. OED VI, p. 430, 5.

29 Moby-Dick, p. 414.

30 Moby-Dick, p. 450.

31 Moby-Dick, p. 450.

32 Moby-Dick, p. 450.

33 Moby-Dick, p. 53.

34 Cf. OED XII, p. 239,1.

35 Cf. OED XII, p. 240, 2.

36 Cf. Moby-Dick, p. 117.

37 Moby-Dick, p. 214.

38 Moby-Dick, p. 215.

39 Moby-Dick, p. 450.

40 Moby-Dick, p. 450.

41 Moby-Dick, p. 506.

42 Cf. The Holy Bible in the King James Version (Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 1984), Daniel 5:25-28.

43 Cf.

44 Moby-Dick, p. 573.

45 Moby-Dick, p. 522.

46 Bryant, Melville and Repose, p. 226.

47 Moby-Dick, p. 242.

48 Cf. OED XI, p. 349, 7.

49 Cf. OED XI, p. 349, 6.

50 Moby-Dick, p. 214.

51 Moby-Dick, p. 395.

52 Moby-Dick, p. 126.

53 Moby-Dick, p. 126.

54 Cf. OED XI, p. 240, 5.

55 Moby-Dick, p. 492.

56 Bryant, Melville and Repose, p. 205.

57 Moby-Dick, p. 488.

58 Moby-Dick, p. 431.

59 Moby-Dick, p. 492.

60 Moby-Dick, p. 492.

61 Moby-Dick, p. 3.

62 Moby-Dick, p. 3.

63 Moby-Dick, p. 3.

64 Cf. 2 Kings 10:6-11.

65 Moby-Dick, p. 11.

66 Cf. Luke 16:18.

67 Luke 16:22.

68 Moby-Dick, p. 11.

69 Moby-Dick, p. 11.

70 Moby-Dick, p. 77.

71 Moby-Dick, p. 485.

72 Moby-Dick, p. 492.

73 Moby-Dick, p. 492.

74 Moby-Dick, p. 164.

75 Miller, “Infants, Boys, and Men and Ifs Eternally - Moby-Dick“, p. 298.

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Moby-Dick - The Correlation between chapters examplified in "The Gilder"
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