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 In Moby Dick,  what does the following quotation reveal about the character...

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madietastik | Student, Grade 11 | eNotes Newbie

Posted June 7, 2012 at 10:56 PM via web

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 In Moby Dick,  what does the following quotation reveal about the character Ishmael?

Ishmael says one of his motives was "the overwhelming idea of the great whale himself. Such a portentous and mysterious monster roused all my curiosity."

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e-martin | High School Teacher | (Level 1) Educator Emeritus

Posted September 15, 2012 at 4:05 PM (Answer #1)

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This quote reveals a couple of things about Ishmael. He is captivated by the idea of Ahab's quest and so not entirely against it. Also, Ishmael experiences awe in the face of the very idea of the white whale. 

Ishmael often voices a mixture of feelings regarding Ahab and his quest, yet it is Ishmael who stands as the contrasting voice to Starbuck in supporting the quest to find and confront Moby Dick.  

Ishmael, in contrast to Starbuck’s rugged rationality, empathizes with Ahab and fully understands the development of the Captain’s monomania...

Ishmael is used functionally to articulate some potential explanations of Ahab's philosophical views on the white whale, the sea and the cosmos. Ishmael's awe at the idea of the whale asserts the significance and boldness of Ahab's quest.

Not only does Ishmael understand the symbolic meaning of the whale, he understands also the daring of Ahab's aims. 

To Ahab it does not matter if the white whale is “agent” or “principle.” He will fight against fate, rather than resign himself to a divine providence.

Ishmael sees the divinity of the whale, as evidenced in the quote in question, and he also sees what is in Ahab's mind (as much as anyone can). 

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