Homework Help

Explain the dark romanticism in "Moby Dick."

user profile pic

mdelu | Student | eNotes Newbie

Posted January 23, 2011 at 9:33 AM via web

dislike 0 like

Explain the dark romanticism in "Moby Dick."

2 Answers | Add Yours

user profile pic

claramolee | (Level 3) eNoter

Posted January 23, 2011 at 5:44 PM (Answer #1)

dislike 1 like

The Dark Romantics were the forefathers to the modern horror, thriller, and mystery stories. Poe, Melville, and Hawthorne added drastically different perspectives from those of the Transcendentalists.
Their views of human existence and strong use of symbolism made them stand apart from Emerson and Thoreau. They examined the psychological effects of guilt and sin, the conflict between good and evil, and people plagued with madness. They agreed that human nature is not necessarily good.

user profile pic

mrsbundy | High School Teacher | (Level 2) Adjunct Educator

Posted June 24, 2011 at 4:45 AM (Answer #2)

dislike 1 like

The "Dark Romanticism" in Moby Dick is also closely related to the love of the sublime that English and American writers from the late-1700s to the early-1800s relished (primarily the Gothic writers from 1790 to 1830).  The meaning of "sublime" in today's vernacular is quite different from the way "sublime" was used several centuries ago.  Then, sublime primarily had this meaning: "impressing the mind with a sense of grandeur or power;inspiring awe, veneration, etc." (Dictionary.com).  Things that were "sublime" were absolutely unexplainable, but literature of that time period attempted to explain the unexplainable, and, in falling short, further evoke a sublime reaction in readers.

The end of Chapter 16 is a perfect example of Melville's use of the sublime.  At this point Ishmael and the reader have learned only a little about Captain Ahab.  The narrator's curiosity about him piques the reader's curiosity as well:

As I walked away, I was full of thoughtfullness; what had been incidentally revealed to me of Captain Ahab, filled me with a certain wild vagueness of painfulness concerning him.  And somehow, at the time, I felt a sympathy adn a sorrow for him, but for I don't know what, unless it was the cruel loss of his leg.  And yet I also felt a strange awe of him; but that sort of awe, which I cannot at all describe, was not exactly awer: I don not know what it was.  But I felt it; and it did not disincline me towards him; though I felt impatience at what seemed like mystery in him, so imperfectly as he was known to me then. (This is from p 79 of the 2nd Norton Critical Edition)

Ishmael is mysteriously attracted to, while simultaneously repelled, by Ahab, and he has no idea why--the feelings are beyond his control.

Once you start to notice Melville's use of the sublime, you'll see it everywhere--in his characterizations of Queequeg, in the way he describes the sea, and certainly in Ahab's relationship to Moby Dick.

Join to answer this question

Join a community of thousands of dedicated teachers and students.

Join eNotes