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The Double Narrative of Moby Dick I.


Moby Dick: or, the white whale is a lengthy and complex novel written by Hermann Melville within between the 1850 and 1851. introduce The a





peculiar character that asks to be addressed as Ishmael and who will function as the narrator throughout the novel; Ishmael

proceeds to narrate the way in which he joined a whaling voyage aboard a ship called the Pequod. After Ishmael boards the Pequod, he stops narrating his own story and proceeds to rehearse the story of a man obsessed with revenge against a mythic white whale called Moby Dick, which will eventually lead to the demise of almost chapters every single the man novel within are of the a ship. noumenal However, nature; several Ishmael


interrupts his phenomenological narration in order to introduce several dissertations about cetology and whale hunting. The

complexity of this split narration has vexed literary criticism, to the point in which some authors argue that the split

narration in the novel happens because Melville joins together two different novels written at different times, Ishmael’s and Ahab’s1. Thus, criticism argues that Moby Dick contains, if not


Barbour, James. The Composition of Moby-Dick in American Literature , Vol. 47, No. 3 (Nov., 1975), pp. 343-360. Published by: Duke University Press. Article Stable URL:


4 (Jan. Published by: Duke University Idem. 48. draws us into the field of deception.two different novels. 471-491. which is defined The as “a narrative skill and us a philosophical stance. pp.. 3 2|Page . takes us in. In Moby Dick.jstor. and that it is precisely the way in which both narrative lines interact what makes the novel so unique and complex. Tall Talk: Pursuing the Lie in Jacksonian Literature in American Literature .”2 In other words. Article Stable URL: http://www. and makes us at last complicit. No. This essay analyses the characteristics of both narrative lines in order to prove that Ishmael’s can be identified as a Tall Tale. Ishmael provides the reader with several discourses about the nature of whaling and whales in general.” 3 In order to create a Tall tale. II. unified by a versatile narrator. Vol. usually the teller or narrator makes several digressions which. Neil. and Ahab’s as a Tragedy. 1977). teller unerringly bombards with pertinent hyperbole. such as the chapter titled “Cetology”. by means of tall talk. a Tall Tale is an unbelievable story presented as a believable one. Tall Tale. artfully digresses. in which he gives a discourse of the particularities 2 Schmitz. at least two distinct narrative lines. according to him are true. digressions that to the reader may seem subjective. Moby Dick as a Tall Tale A Tall Tale is a “folk tale seized by the activity of tall talk and constructed as a lie.

Ishmael is a sailor. Hermann. his attitude seems to say. Paul Brodktorb. Newhaven and London: Yale University Press. characterizes Ishmael as a mysterious character. because it is consciously chosen in full awareness of the alternatives. perversely truer than the received and unexamined false positions of others. Moby Dick: or. in his book Ishmael’s White World says that: Ishmael lies to us[…]We are all in false positions.P.5 Ishmael.of whales. 1965. because it is difficult to believe that a sailor could gather the necessary knowledge to make a treatise on “the grand divisions of the entire whale host. if the first chapter is to be believed. and yet. the level of knowledge that he portrays within the novels seems to suggest that this strange figure is either lying about his origins or about the things he is discoursing but the language used in his dissertations. proposes a contradiction where his subjectivity and lies are objective.). Ishmael's White World: A Phenomenological Reading of "Moby Dick". which seems to be scientific. Paul (Jr. the white whale [kindle edition]. 24 de March de 2011.88 5 Brodtkorb. Furthermore. if Ishmael is an unreliable narrator that presents the subjective as objective. then. does not correspond to the way in which the rest of the sailors speak. is more responsible and therefore. a stranger that tells a subjective story. amongst other things. P. 125 3|Page . the reader must put 4 Melville. and it says this at the same time that it says that his false position.”4 This.

40 Id. Also. motivated by his passions and appetites.the whole narration in context and remember that Ishmael is a fictional character within a fictional world. Ahab embodies the figure of the tragic hero. in other words. P. III. P. 1965. 35 7 8 4|Page . Ithaca. he is obsessed with killing Moby Dick. In the tragedy narrated within the novel.”8 Ahab’s story encompasses all of these elements. according to Aristotle. Ishmael’s narrative line portrays a Tall Tale that has the effect of ensnaring the reader into Ishmael’s own perspective about whaling. New York: Cornell University Press. Tragedy spectacle and constant inevitable relation between good evil. aspect and Ahab’s of a narrative line embodies is “a almost every of a a tragedy. Thus. forsakes the good for himself and the others. Henry Alonso. Tragedy: a view of life. the reader must remember that what he or she is reading is a novel. First of all. and he forsakes everything he has in order to 6 Myers. and this character. “the best of plots combine change of fortune (metabasis) with reversal (peripeteia) and discovery (anagnorisis). 8 Id.7 This peculiar character is called the Tragic Hero. P. dramatic representation of a law of values”6 in which its main character is presented with a choice that will either lead to his or her salvation or damnation. Moby Dick as a Tragedy In single contrast.

Almost all of the narration of phenomena within Moby Dick is devoted to characterize and describe Ahab as a tragic hero who has eyes exclusively for his own goal. according to him. metabasis. “Ahab sailed for vengeance. with he the is rest of to the hear characters Starbuck’s Ahab’s unable advice.he forgot both love of life and child and duty to his owners. 59 5|Page . up until that point the Pequod had managed to kill successfully several whales without losing a single member of the crew. Every single whale hunt. Possessed by one inflexible purposeto destroy the white whale. which will condemn both him and his crew. and yet he forsakes everything he has in order to achieve his goal. peripeteia and anagnorisis are achieved. help the Rachel captain to find his son. In just a couple of chapters. but when they finally start hunting the white whale. the boats are destroyed and the Parsee dies. ship encounter portrays or interaction obsession. where the tragedy consolidates.”9 Ahab knows what his duty is. in the climax of Ahab’s narrative.achieve his goal. will kill Moby Dick. As Henry Alonzo Myers says in a chapter dedicated to Moby Dick in his book Tragedy: a view of life. It is up until the last chapters of the novel. P. The change of fortune appears in the first two days spent pursuing Moby Dick. or board the Bachelor and be jolly. 9 Id. Instead. he forges and baptizes both in blood and thunder the harpoon which.

Ho. lonely death on lonely life! Oh. and top this one piled comber of my death! Towards thee I roll. both stories revolve around it in one way or another. In his last words. but to die hunting it. from hell’s heart I stab at thee. 10 Thus. ho! From all your furthest bounds pour ye now in.Reversal appears when the Pequod is destroyed and Ahab dies. both stories share a single narrator that changes focus throughout the story. Second. Conclusion if both stories within the novel follow different Even narrative lines. now I feel my topmost greatness lies in my topmost grief. P. completely reversing the whole situation. Ahab’s discovery is achieved. At the same time. his fatal flaw. The first one is the shared theme of whaling. a metadiegetic narrator that functions within the novel 10 as a homodiegetic. for hate’s sake I spit my last breath at thee. and yet. Op. Cit. the Pequod’s and Ahab’s only goal was to destroy the whale. ye bold billows of my whole forgone life. thou all-destroying but unconquering whale. 373 6|Page . to condemn himself and his crew to a terrible fate spurned by his ambition. autodiegetic or heterodiegetic Melville. to the last I grapple with thee. Ahab’s realization is that his quest was not to kill the white whale. they are intertwined together thanks to several factors. Ahab says: Oh. IV. the whale ends up destroying both of them.

Both stories are complementary to the other.according to the circumstance being narrated. and action-packed sedate chapters packed that with Ahab’s tragedy. V. without the narration of Ahab’s tragedy. dramatic. becomes the only one able to narrate Ahab’s tale of vengeance and damnation. On the other. Ishmael. Finally. and without the Tall Tale. the reader would not experience the effect created by the alternation portray of tense. a narrator that identifies himself as Ishmael. ones Ishmael’s dissertations about a now forgotten activity. 7|Page Bibliography . the reader is tempted to believe the Tall Tale within the story because Ishmael survives apparently points out that Ishmael is a real character in Melville’s world. the tall Tale would have no background to trick the reader into believing Ishmael’s lies. being the only survivor of the Pequod’s wreck. On one hand. whaling. Without both narrative lines. the figure of the epilogue within the novel gives both narrative lines cohesion. slow. the mood achieved in the climax within Ahab’s story would be diminished.

http://www. pp. No.jstor.). 48. 343-360. Article Stable URL: http://www. Ishmael's White World: A Phenomenological Reading of "Moby Dick". 1965. 47. Tragedy: a view of life. Neil. pp. Melville. the white whale [kindle edition]. 4 (Jan. Ithaca.. Paul (Jr.Barbour. 471-491. Hermann. 24 de March de 2011.jstor. Published by: Duke University Press. James. Myers. Schmitz. 1977). 1975). Newhaven and London: Yale University English Literature V. Moby Dick: or. Tall Tale. Rudich de La Rosa 8|Page . Vol. No. Vol. 3 ( Article Stable URL: Brodtkorb. Published by: Duke University Press. Tall Talk: Pursuing the Lie in Jacksonian Literature in American Literature . New York: Cornell University Press. Final Essay Author: Christian M. Henry Alonso. The Composition of Moby-Dick in American Literature ..