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Izetta Autumn’s review of Moby Dick
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Apr 20, 2008 10:25PM
I knew nothing of Melville and his reputation when I travelled into this book. I was 12, and enamored of sea stories, so I just dove in.
Didn't have an inkling I was reading "the great American novel," just ploughed on through in childhood's innocence.
In adulthood I tried again to read it, now armed with full knowledge of what I was getting into. I didn't last 50 pages.
And the moral of this story is...
...heck, I don't know.
Apr 22, 2008 11:33AM
Thanks so much for your thoughts on Melville. I agree that he's genius - and that he was far ahead of his time in terms of addressing nationhood and modernity. I love Bartelby the Scrivener, because of its subversive quality of saying, "I would prefer not to."
I didn't know that Melville had been overlooked in the first half of the 20th century.
What do you think of Brecht?
Apr 22, 2008 11:34AM
Thanks for sharing your thoughts! Isn't it funny how reading in childhood without context can lead us to these great joys?
Oct 25, 2009 09:53AM
Just want to throw it out there that there are an extremely large amount of amazing novels written by white males. Even though there are many written by women, blacks, etc. But I really hate it when people don't read a book just because a white guy wrote it. And I'm black.
I'm currently reading the book right now, anywhoo. It looks to be another 5-star book.
Mar 01, 2012 02:21PM
Izetta, I truly appreciate that you gave MD another chance, and that Ellison spurred you to do so! So you read teo of our greatest novels in the process. There were some dead male whits worth all the canonical browbeating.
Aug 18, 2012 05:45PM
I greatly disliked Moby Dick and after reading this review I am intrigued and will have to give it another try from a new perspective!
Aug 19, 2012 10:19AM
I am very happy you're giving Moby-Dick another chance. Each time I read it the book has been a fresh and amazing experience. I wonder why Ruth gave up after 50 pages – what she mainly read was the budding friendship between Ishmael and Queequeg. Is she put off by that? I find it the most humanly engaging relationship in the book, a rare and fascinating 19th-century example of a pan-cultural brotherhood and what Leslie Fielder once called one of the great American love stories.
Homosocial dynamics aside, I see a kind of mystical love in Q's requesting the coffin to be built, then he recovers from his fatalism. Yet, he has intuitively created the richly symbolic means for his best friend to survive, and for that "orphan" to tell the great tale. We all have plenty to thank you Queequeg for.
I recently read Uncle Tom's Cabin, and as much as that book offers admirably provocative (but rhetorically excessive, for a storyteller) portrayals of slavery’s evil, by comparison Melville's handling of race is far more interesting and nuanced, and insightful about the complexities of multicultural relations.
Those range as broadly as the comic byplay of Stubb and Fleece the black cook over the hunger-crazed sharks (CH 64), to the classic racial confrontation and masterful pan-cultural interplay of "Forecastle -- Midnight" (Ch 40), to the devastatingly cruel treatment of Pip followed by the stunningly unexpected paternal adopting of him by Ahab, even as the black cabin boy has become psychologically disabled by his trauma at the hands of his mates and the unfathomably indifferent ocean.
And of course, there's the delightfully odd couple, Ishmael and Queequeg, and Ishmael's visit to the black church service. All this is amazing for a mid-19th century author, and set a standard to this day and sociologically explains part of the book's greatness.
Further, the novella Benito Cereno brilliantly demonstrates how Melville dramatizes the tragedy of slavery while demonstrating that no race is above savagery. One question he asks here is, to what ends savagery is used and when is it ever justified? Time has shown that no perhaps author of any color or gender did better on these topics and I'm not sure if any have since.
Another thing I love about Moby-Dick is Melville's clear and complicated fascination and love for whales, which permeates most of his writing about them (e.g. The Grand Armada chapter 87), even aside from the purely cetological material and his one chapter of defending the “glory and honor of whaling,” which seems almost obligatory and a understandably a bit defensive. Thus the vividness of the Man and/vs. Nature theme.
Clearly I could go on. All I can say is, dive in someday -- say, a damp, drizzly November in your soul or a sun-blessed August afternoon overhead.
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