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THE SHAPE OF "MOBY-DICK"

HENRY L. GOLEMBA
Studies in the Novel
Vol. 5, No. 2 (summer 1973), pp. 197-210
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/29531590
Page Count: 14
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THE SHAPE OF "MOBY-DICK"
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Abstract

For genertions Ishmael has been neglected as little more than the insignificant narrator of Moby-Dick. Criticism of the last fifteen years has rectified this misconception by elevating Ishmael to an equal footing with Ahab and by praising his "equal eye" vision. We have come to respect Ishmael's attempt to garner as many diverse experiences and angles of vision as much as we have been intrigued by the spectacle of Ahab's monomaniac behavior. However a close structural analysis of the novel yields a further refinement of this perspective. In addition to manipulating plot to create a warning exemplum of Ahab's erratic behavior, Melville uses structure as a silent metaphor in order to comment negatively upon Ishmael's vision. The contrapuntal interplay between the points of view represented by these two characters reverberates throughout the novel in a meticulous fashion. Their daedal dance results in a mutual cancellation of their opposite approaches to gaining a profound understanding of the universe. Ahab destroys himself amid a flash of seaspray while Ishmael gradually looms larger and vaster until he seems to lack corporeity, becomes transparently thin and uninteresting. A careful study of Moby-Dick's architectonics also reveals how meticulously Melville crafted his story. Not only does Ishmael slowly evaporate and Ahab abruptly vanish, but Melville has accomplished these antipodal destinies through a fastidious structure of six neatly ordered sections, each of which is of the same length as each other. Ishmael passes through six distinct roles, while his view of Ahab becomes increasingly clearer. Melville used structure as carefully as he used plot to create this novel of total ontological ambiguity. (HLG)

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