Monday, September 23, 2013

God in the Whale

A classmate of mine, Shelly, wrote "I believe that Moby Dick does in fact represent God and Ahab's search for him is not for religion or mercy, but to avenge his misfortune - the bad things that have happened to him, such as losing his leg." This is an astute observation, I think, and warrants further investigation. As I've been reading through what at first seemed to be unrelated passages about the physiology and anatomy of whales, I've been thinking about how it all ties into a broader, more general idea, and I've come to the same conclusion as Shelly: that the whale is, in many ways, meant to represent God.

By EIMJ from deviantART
This point becomes clearer, I think, with each chapter. In Ch. 68, he is described as "the mystic-marked whale" (276) covered in "undecipherable" hieroglyphs (lit. holy writings), and in Ch. 71, Gabriel, the crazed 'prophet' declares the White Whale to be "the Shaker God incarnated" (284). In Ch. 80, Ishmael comments that sperm whales cause one to "feel the Deity and the dread powers more forcibly than in beholding any other object in living nature, and Ch. 82 paints the whale as an alternate incarnation of the Hindu god Vishnu. These are just a few of the many references that place the whale within a context of deity.
In explaining the many seemingly unrelated chapters in Moby Dick, a friends and classmate, Paul Bills, wrote: Each "extra" non-narrative chapter is another harpoon launched from Melville's pen, sticking into our minds and tugging us deeper into his possession as he sets us up for the white whale's final stroke." This idea really tugged at me, and I've been thinking a bit about these same seemingly 'random' passages and what they really do for me--how they all connect.
By zraw from deviantART
Possibly the most poignant and meaningful excerpt for me, however, comes in Ch. 87, wherein Ishmael describes the whale's tail. In closing off the chapter, Ishmael makes reference to a perhaps less-known passage in Exodus wherein Jehovah states: "And I will take away mine hand, and thou shalt see my back parts: but my face shall not be seen." Ishmael quotes this almost verbatim:
[If] I know not even the tail of this whale, how understand his head? much more, how comprehend his face, when face he has none? Thou shalt see my back parts, my tail, he seems to say, but my face shall not be seen (339).
Man is ignorant to the nature and the abode of both the whale and God, and while he may strive to comprehend those grand mysteries in this life, his senses are still darkened: he can never truly grasp them.