I finished Moby-Dick for the third time last night at midnight-thirty. It was a breathless ending as one would expect, but there was also a feeling of anti-climax. I think that despite the excitement of the chase and the apocalyptic ending, I enjoyed the build up of the suspense all during the book to the end. There was a bit of sentimentality towards the end that was not really present during the rest of the text…almost as if Melville was impatient to get to the end, to get the end of Ahab out of his system or something. And the whirlpool that swallows everything but Ishmael is a bit supernatural which shocks after having such vivid realism for the previous 550 pages. It was also strange that after occupying such a central (and tender) role for Ishmael through the first 100-200 pages of the book, Queequeg just disappears from the action. And how is it that, as a green hand, Ishmael suddenly replaces Fedallah in Ahab’s boat? That seems like a bit of a stretch to me. But then, I am nit-picking on one of the greatest literary masterpieces of all-time and that probably sounds ridiculous and pretentious perhaps.
What I loved about this book: the atmosphere, the excruciating detail, the variety of dialogs…you feel like you are also on the deck of the Pequod when Starbuck and Ahab converse…ok that reminds me of another thing I found annoying. Albeit, the last soliloquy of Ahab is one of the best in Moby Dick, it seems almost out of character for him: the whole book he is this dark, moody almost one-dimensional character and suddenly we seem him shedding a tear and opening his heart to the one that nearly shot him, the First Mate Starbuck. Perhaps I am too influenced by television but it seems a bit incongruent this time around.
One aspect that just stuck out for me this time around was the latent homosexuality of the narrator, Ishmael. Besides the obvious coziness between him and Queequeg, the description of his hands deep in spermaceti squeezing pieces of oil but also friends of other sailors performing the same task seemed highly sexualized to me. I really hadn’t thought about this aspect of Melville at all and upon doing a bit of research learned that he and Nathaniel Hawthorne of Scarlet Letter fame and to whom Moby-Dick is dedicated may have been lovers. It doesn’t actually change my perception or understanding of the book, it is just a curious aspect that added a certain depth or texture to some of the passages such as the one I cited.
There is definitely something universal about this story where Ahab clearly feels above morality and is brutally crushed by his pride. The sad thing is that the entire crew pays the ultimate price for their adherence to his obsession. The last two encounters that are described with other boats are masterful: the contrast with the wild abandon of the Bachelor and the rejection of the forlorn Rachel were both perfect set up for the final acts of this tragedy.
I’ll put this aside for now and come back to it in a few years. If this inspired you to reread this masterpiece, please let me know in the comments…and if I have any further thoughts, I’ll be sure to share them here my mateys!