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According to Melville, what is the meaning in life and what does he tell us about man's...

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johnsmith1492 | (Level 3) eNoter

Posted September 29, 2011 at 11:35 AM via web

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According to Melville, what is the meaning in life and what does he tell us about man's ability to understand that meaning?

just some kind of direction to go on, some help, or an outline answering the question

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mwestwood | College Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

Posted September 29, 2011 at 5:29 PM (Answer #1)

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A deeply metaphysical text, Herman Melville's Moby Dick is in Melville's words, "a wicked book."  By that Melville seems to mean that he, like his Captain Ahab, has sought what lies behind the eyes of Nature and the man that seeks this knowledge is a tragic larger-than-life figure, himself symbolic of inexorable Fate.  In Chapter 36, "The Quarter Deck," Ahab expresses his monomanical desire for revenge; and, he points to the inscrutableness of nature that surely holds malice:

All visible objects, man, are but as pasteboard masks. But in each event--in the living act, the undoubted deed--there, some unknown but still reasoning thing puts forth the mouldings of its features from behind the unreasoning mask. If man will strike, strike through the mask! How can the prisoner reach outside except by thrusting through the wall? To me, the white whale is that wall, shoved near to me. Sometimes I think there's naught beyond.

Melville shakes up nineteenth-century contemporary thought with  criticisms and insights into the hearts of man where, Ahab contends, "Truth hath no confines."  For, he perceives the whale as a vengeful fiend whom he must conquer.  Yet, this single-minded pursuit of an ideal is self-destructive. Thus, Captain Ahab represents Fate as in Chapter 47 is Ahab described as an

unchanging vibration and that vibration is merely enough to admit of the crosswise interblending of other threads of its own.

He is as though possessed with the destruction of Moby Dick, personifying the inexorableness of Fate. Thus man existential search is hampered both by the forces of Fate and the inscrutability of the universe.

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