Updated: 2 days ago
Moby Dick by Herman Melville
The novel Moby Dick taught me to read beyond the book itself and so when I took a closer look at Melville I aspired to be like him (like any writer who aspires to write the Great American Novel but knows they can’t because Herman Melville wrote the Greatest American Novel).
I read Moby Dick in high school, grasping the vengeance of Captain Ahab and the fact that he was after a specific whale who took his leg. I read Moby Dick in college with such intensity, questioning the mysteries and following the breadcrumbs of the evils of slavery, of American capitalism, of imperalism, immortality and the larger metaphysical discussion of perception and of the incompleteness of merely being born. I return to it now, during this uprising with divinity and with a keen focus on the physiology of the brain.
Moby Dick was dedicated to Nathaniel Hawthrone, author of The Scarlet Letter. Melville did so because he disagreed with Hawhtrone on the subject of slavery. Why would someone dedicate a book to their opponent?
Melville admired and respected Nathaniel Hawthrone as a novelist; they had many conversations and public responses to each other discussing their thoughts as writers do, because to write is to think. They did not agree with each other on the topic of slavery and so they had conversations as a social response to each other’s disagreement.
The Scarlet Letter was a pro-slavery book. Moby Dick was an anti-slaver protest.
We all have a cognitive ability that we don’t often tune into; that is to listen to all angles, investigate all angles and consider all angles. Tuning into observations that go beyond our scope shapes how we speak our truth. The definition of rhetoric does not suggest sincerity, only persuasion. Melville was sincere and persuasive because of this cognitive ability.
The art of conversation is lacking in so many ways in the year 2020 because language and literature is no longer the catalyst - sliding our fingers through Instagram and rapidly responding to our opposition, which is not a real opposition but a superficial slide show of modern behavior. Nonetheless, we are experiencing unprecedented times through Instagram and it’s informing how we reform our society after an uprising for systematic equalities for the black community and all other minorities.
This unproductive and destructive device will harm us all. It will take us further away from the purpose of this movement. I’m not a politician nor an activist who can speak on legislative changes but I can speak about the evils of slavery as I understood it through literature and through the inherentant feeling of pain that harbors in me just knowing it existed. I can tell you that we can change our learned behaviors only if we accept there is a difference between being prejudiced and racists and why it’s important to know the difference. It’s worth examining for this conversation even if it seems futile.
Getting back to Melville, is the whale Moby Dick a symbol of the immortality of the sin of the oppressor? Is the great leviathan of the sea symbolic of a sin living on forever, even after the sinner has left this world, in the way sins live on as anxiety, in a broken society? Melville wrote Moby Dick to have many perspectives, so we can be the opposite of the monomaniacal Captain Ahab.
There are so many ways to read Moby Dick and so much ambiguity by Melville to which our minds can wander.
So herein lies my perspective. As a minority I believe it is all black lives matter and in saying so, I’m not implying all other lives don’t matter. As a brown woman, I felt a fire burn inside of me, not with compulsion but with sincerity to use my literary voice in support of The Black Lives Matter Movement as it should have been named instead of being constricted to a hashtag, blacklivesmatter. I’ve accepted that social media is a necessary evil because we share and communicate, sometimes helpful information. I question how it can be part of the solution.
I could also be wrong, and maybe we’ll find unity in raising funds for black organizations, supporting black owned business and posting in solidarity with the black community.
There are different perspectives and all should be considered but here is what I think -
Black America needs a caring rehabilitation for themselves to recover from the evils of slavery that still exists in the anxieties of an oppressed society and the stigma that they are still slaves. White America needs a caring rehabilitation for themselves to recover from the evils of slavery as the oppressor of societies and the stigma that they are evil and immortal. All other minorities need a caring rehabilitation for themselves to recover from the evils of slavery and immigration issues and genocide and not knowing where they fit into this movement because of the stigma that they don’t matter and that America is only black and white.
If we can grasp this then maybe we can talk about our LGBTQ Plus Community, genocide, human trafficking, child prostitution, child soldiers, sexual predators and all of our sins. There will be more work to do even after we win the war against police brutality, against social inequalities and against all forms of oppression. The work involves healing the psyche, the soul of our broken society.
The year was 2014. I was enrolled in an english literature class to study the genre of the Great American Novels. We spent an entire semester on Moby Dick. Any less time would not be enough to think critically and analytically about this epic masterpiece. It was the last week of class and our essays would be due in two weeks, (with one additional week during finals to hand in the paper). My professor on that last day wrecked us with her scholarly explanation just when we were beginning to think we understood the novel.
“The Pequod is heading for a shipwreck. The Pequod is America heading for a shipwreck because America is broken. America was doomed for destruction from the moment of dehumanization. The white teeth of the withe sperm tale is symbolic for a vagina, for femininity is scary and so is any color other than white.”
The unanimous response was a loud outburst of,
“What does femininity have to do with anything we’re discussing?”
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