First off, I must preface this with a bit of a spoiler warning. Although, if I’m being frank, I came up with much of this a little less than halfway through. I don’t spoil anything you probably don’t already know, although I do go into a bit of what I think some things symbolize. It’s a bit more of an analysis than a review.
Have you ever spoken to a person who was so incredibly passionate about what he or she was speaking of, that even despite your lack of interest in said subject, you were absolutely fascinated by what he or she was saying? And somehow, this person managed to transfer through their intense passion an interest in this subject for yourself? I ask this because, whilst reading Moby Dick, I found myself to be incredibly engulfed in what some have claimed to be a slow read.
Mushashi, a master samurai in his time, once said, “From one thing, know ten thousand” or another, “Once you see the way broadly, you see it in all things”. These quotes mean that if you are lucky enough to master one thing, you’ll realize that you can apply your mastery broadly and learn many things in the same way. It is obvious during reading Moby Dick that Melville is a master writer. And I don’t assume him to be a master at whale hunting, but I do assume that he transferred what it was to be on a path towards becoming a master into Ishmael, the narrator. The complexities of whale fishing are abundant and constant throughout the book. Though this may be irritating to many readers, I for some reason, was constantly looking deeper and deeper into why he was adding in so many chapters. It took me halfway into the book to realize what it all meant, and was affirmed with the quote, “Out of the trunk, the branches grow; out of them, the twigs. So in productive subjects, grow the chapters.”
I was very intimidated to start this book. I assumed it to be a tremendous undertaking. I was surprised at first. You see, It starts off as a very light hearted and surprisingly easy read. But as soon as Ismael takes a step on the boat, there is a tremendous shift. It becomes every bit as poetic and literary as you could imagine, words you’ve seldom seen are used in abundance, and I could see the pace dragging for many to the point where many people quit out of frustration. But this is all intentional. He shows you at the start, that Ismael can be just like anyone else. But when he steps foot on that boat, his passions begin to flare. Ahab’s passions rub off on him. They, along with all of the crew, are on the chase. The chase for perfection.
At the start of this book, Melville dedicates it to Nathaniel Hawthorne, stating he would be the only one to understand the book fully. And after the first few chapters, with Ishmael and Quuequeg, it’s easy to assume that it’s a gay thing with all the things that go unsaid in those chapters. But after reading the book and analyzing it as much as I did, I realize that at the time, Hawthorne was probably the only person Melville knew who was had mastered something as well as he did; the only person who had become so incredibly focused at mastering something, that it engulfed his life. I think the whale represents greatness—perfection even, and at a particular craft. In the case of Melville and Hawthorne, that craft was writing, of course. The whole book is a chase. A chase many will probably quit. I think one might appreciate this book all the more if they’ve ever spent countless hours developing a craft. A craft that you pour your everything in to. I think the slow chapters are meant to represent the knowledge and time one must cultivate to master something. I have heard some attribute the slow chapters to Melville trying to show how boring it was at sea by purposefully slowing down the book. I wholeheartedly disagree. Ishmael never tries to bore you— in fact, he is incredibly romantic about what he is discussing. Whaling means everything to him. If you notice, his first stint whaling is with Ahab, so the information you are reading was all learned after. It’s about being inspired and getting that flame for yourself.
Never has anything— movie, television show, painting, book, etc—caused me to ponder and reflect quite so much Moby Dick did. There were times when reading, when I intended to only read a chapter or so, and instead read near 40 pages straight, telling myself I would stop soon, and never stopping. And then other times, when I planned to sit for a bit, and had to put the book down after reflecting on a line to a point where I could not continue reading because it was overwhelmingly significant. Throughout my readings I was perpetually floored by the beauty and the depth. Melville did something truly unique here. He captured what it means to be human. How what is most important is to always be on a hunt to improve ourselves. How there is nothing more important for a human than to find something he’s willing to give an arm or leg for.
I think, more than any other author, Melville has captured the importance of finding passions in one’s life, for it is the key to fulfillment. I recall at one point thinking about how hardly anyone could be a whaler anymore and it would be difficult for years to come to relate—and then it struck me that whaling, even in Melville’s time, was a rare career choice. But that’s the point! If Ishmael and Ahab can be so incredibly absorbed and in love with whaling and Moby Dick, then anyone can feel that passionate about anything. It’s about finding what it is that inspires you. Whether it be music, painting, architecture, or whatever. If all my favorite books are 5 stars, this is a 7 star, at least. It really is that much better. This is the greatest book of all time with the most beautiful and thought provoking writing I’ve ever read. There are things in here that I’ll reread religiously, I feel like I finally understand why people read the same passages over and over in bibles. I hope everyone finds something that inspires them like this did to me! I hope everyone finds their own Moby Dick!