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How do you imitate Melville's method of description? I am writing an essay to describe...

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nicegurl | (Level 3) eNoter

Posted October 19, 2011 at 3:06 AM via web

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How do you imitate Melville's method of description?

 I am writing an essay to describe something using Melville's method.

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mwestwood | College Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

Posted October 19, 2011 at 4:22 AM (Answer #1)

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Heralded as "the greatest of American novels," Herman Melville's Moby Dick possesses, nevertheless, disjointed narratives and almost-Shakespearean soliloquies.  Yet, there is an astonishing vigor in the narratives that are replete with symbolism and the shadow of fate. 

So, in order to write a description imitative of Melville's unique style, the student may wish to examine examples of the author's descriptions of characters.  Here are examples of Fedullah, who predicts Ahab's fateful death, along with a description of Captain Ahab:

   The figure that now stood by its bows was tall and swart, with one white tooth evilly protruding from its steel-like lips. A rumpled Chinese jacket of black cotton funereally invested him, with wide black trowsers of the same dark stuff. But strangely crowning this ebonness was a glistening white plaited turban, the living hair braided and coiled round and round upon his head.

Moby-DickCh.48

He looked like a man cut away from the stake, when the fire has overrunningly wasted all the limbs without consuming them, or taking away one particle from their compacted aged robustness... Threading its way out from among his grey hairs, and continuing right down one side of his tawny scorched face and neck, till it disappeared in his clothing, you saw a slender rod-like mark, lividly whitish. It resembled that perpendicular seam sometimes made in the straight, lofty trunk of a great tree, when the upper lightning tearingly darts down it, and without wrenching a single twig, peels and grooves out the bark from top to bottom ere running off into the soil, leaving the tree still greenly alive, but branded.
Moby-DickCh. 28
The description of Captain Ahab points also to Melville's use of symbolism which is prevalent throughout the narrative.  Clearly, there are suggestions that there is much more to life that what man can observe. The description of the men's interpretations of the doubloon which Ahab has nailed to the mast comes in Chapter 99  provides an interesting example, of symbolism. Another Chapter which illuminates Melville's overriding motif of the inscrutableness of nature and man's limitations of observation comes in Chapter 36 entitled "The Quarterdeck" in which Melville expresses his metaphysical discontent. And, if the student wishes to imitate the Shakespearean-like soliloquies of Ismael, look at Chapter 35 in which Ismael sits in the mast-head, especially the last paragraph.   Therefore, in the student's description imitative of Melville, there should be a certain intensity with symbolism and the suggestion that the powers of human observation are limited, that nature masks its existential meaning. 

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