A Whale of a Book - Intertextuality in "Moby Dick"

Essay, 2008

4 Pages, Grade: 1,3



Intertextuality elicits a sheer unlimited range of possible readings of a text. This is due to the fact that intertextual references enrich and deepen the text. It depends on the reader and his prior knowledge, however, in how far he is able to notice and activate the intertextual references in order to derive further meaning from it .

The term “intertextuality” was “coined by Julia Kristeva in 1966 to denote the interdependence of literary texts, the interdependence of any one literary text with all those that have gone before it.” (Cuddon 1998, 424).

Scholars have argued that every text directly or indirectly refers to other texts. Thus every text is a collection of quotations and allusion from the vastness of literature. Kristeva declared that “a literary text is not an isolated phenomenon but is made up of a mosaic of quotations, and any text is an ‘absorption and transformation of another’.” (Cuddon 1998, 424). Thus it can be derived that no text can be seen and interpreted separately, as a piece of art on its own, but as a small component in a vast cosmos of interrelated texts. This assumption questions the “originality” of authors. Yet, as Barthes moves authors out of the spotlight of research by introducing the “Death of the Author” the question arises: How does intertextuality effect the reader’s perception of a text?

There are obvious references as well as subtle ones which might only be realized by close reading. The mention of Ahab as being a king in Old Testament times is clearly an apparent intertextual reference. This can be seen by the fact that the name is not merely mentioned but the meaning is provided as well: “[…] and Ahab of old, thou knowest, was a crowned king!” (Melville 1993, 68). This quotation evokes a respectful attitude towards Captain Ahab because he was named after a king. The next quotation however rearranges this first impression: “And a very vile one. When that wicked king was slain, the dogs, did they not lick his blood?” (Melville 1993, 68). The addition of the prophecy made about Ahab – in this case given as a fact – changes the respectful attitude. One wonders if Captain Ahab is going to suffer a similar dreadful fate due to a vicious character trade. Thus the reader’s perception of the character is purposefully influenced by a more detailed reference to the Bible. Hence, it can be spoken of an obvious intertextuality because everybody – even people who are not well-read in the Bible will understand it and gain the same meaning from the passage because it is explained.


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A Whale of a Book - Intertextuality in "Moby Dick"
TU Dortmund
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Intertextuality, Moby Dick
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Dörte Schabsky (Author), 2008, A Whale of a Book - Intertextuality in "Moby Dick", Munich, GRIN Verlag, https://www.grin.com/document/154161


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