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Points to Ponder

Father Mapple's sermon, the Satanic baptism of Ahab's harpoon, the encounter with the "prophet" Elijah, the biblical names of characters on board the Pequod, the skinned whale penis that looks like a bishop's robe: Melville fills his novel with allusions to religion and ritual, particularly to Christianity. What effect does this have on the main narrative? Do you think that the religious aspects of the text are coherent? Are they well integrated with the plot and with the secular information on whaling? If not, do you think that such a disjunction is intentional and effective?

Ahab's quest for Moby Dick, to many of the characters in the novel, seems the business of the devil himself. The black-haired, scarred and bearded Captain presents an unmistakably demonic figure. And yet, the simplistic view of Ahab's evil hunt for a white whale as a battle between good and evil also presents problems: Moby Dick may be "white," but he is just as demonic a force. Is there any way that we can see Ahab as something other than a pure villain? Is there any way that we can see Moby Dick as something other than an embodiment of violent force? If the answer to these questions is yes, then we need to reimagine the confrontation between these two figures in a subtler way. What exactly is at stake in the last chapters of the novel, when Ahab goes head to head with his enormous nemesis?

"Ishmael," the novel's narrator, pretends to be writing a memoir of his adventures at sea, but does so in the most encyclopedic fashion imaginable. He refers to an extraordinary number of sources, leading us to ask the question "How does Ishmael, a common sailor, know so much about mythology, literature, science, history, etc.?" Even in his narrative of events on board the Pequod, Ishmael reveals knowledge that he cannot possibly have: he overhears private conversations, he "narrates" the innermost thoughts of characters. Do such moments of unrealistic narration destroy the coherence of the novel? Does Melville expect us to wonder how Ishmael is able to know all this? If we do want to ask such a question, we might conclude either that Ishmael is "inventing" information, and that this aspect of his psychology is part of the novel's point, or we could simply conclude that Melville is using Ishmael as a mouthpiece for his own omniscient point of view. Which explanation do you find more interesting?

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Historical Context
Main Characters
Points to Ponder
Did You Know
Plot Summary
Chapters 1 - 5
Chapters 6 - 10
Chapters 11 - 15
Chapters 16 - 20
Chapters 21 - 25
Chapters 26 - 30
Chapters 31 - 35
Chapters 36 - 40
Chapters 41 - 45
Chapters 46 - 50
Chapters 51 - 55
Chapters 56 - 60
Chapters 61 - 65
Chapters 66 - 70
Chapters 71 - 75
Chapters 76 - 80
Chapters 81 - 85
Chapters 86 - 90
Chapters 91 - 95
Chapters 96 - 100
Chapters 101 - 105
Chapters 106 - 110
Chapters 111 - 115
Chapters 116 - 120
Chapters 121 - 125
Chapters 126 - 130
Chapters 131 - 135


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