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Claire Ceriani's picture

Access to One Man's Thoughts

I wasn’t in class last week, so I really can’t build on the existing discussion much, but I can offer my opinions.


Moby-Dick is actually one of my favorite books.  I read it in an American Lit class in 11th grade, though I didn’t actually get to discuss it with the class (it was for one of those independent reading projects where everyone chooses their own book off a list).  I think I like it for the same reason that a lot of people hate it: I expected it to be a novel, and it wasn’t.  It was probably the first thing I ever ready that really surprised me in that way.  I decided I liked it for this rather enigmatic quality that makes it not quite a novel when I came to my favorite chapter, Cetology.  (Interesting how that rather mirrors this class…)  I suppose I first liked this chapter because it’s unexpected and subtly humorous.  I like it now after having read the book once and going back with a different perspective, because it truly makes the work a story from out of a man’s mind.  I don’t mean fabricated, I mean remembered and reconstructed.  Ishamel isn’t just giving a list of events, he’s somehow allowing us into his memories and all the opinions he has of them and all the information he associates with them.  I think this “organic form” as we seem to be calling it allows us to see the events of this story unfold in a very unusual way.  I don’t feel like I’m reading the story of Ahab and the white whale as told by Ishamel.  I feel like I’m reading the story of Ishmael remembering these events, which includes his careful consideration of how to classify whales, something he clearly considers important.  It also includes the Etymology and Extracts at the beginning.  Knowledge colors memories.  It includes stage directions and soliloquies, which makes me feel that at these times, Ishmael’s memories focus more on the words of others and not necessarily on his own thoughts at the time.  The story does begin as though he is merely telling it to someone as he’s told it to many people, but it’s really only the exposition that reads this way.  Once he gets to the darker story itself, it becomes more a developing collection of thoughts.  He’s run through how it all began in his head many times, but this is the first time he’s really stopped to tell the story of his time on the Pequod.  It’s interesting that Ishmael goes on this voyage as a sort of suicide, wanting to be isolated from the rest of the world, yet we as readers are later granted access to everything that was going on in his mind during that period of isolation.


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