Is Moby Dick still relevant today ?

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Ashley Kannan | Middle School Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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There's a fairly cool advertisement for AT&T's Blackberry Torch mobile device that makes the case for its relevancy in the modern setting.  Even outside of that, I think that a case can be made for Melville's work being meaningful today.  The theme of conflict that exists between individual and nature is very relevant in the modern setting.  Ahab's fundamental desire to "tame" nature or to capture it in order to feed his own sense of self is something we see in many forms.  As a growing environmental ethic is taking hold of us, there has to be some type of reckoning to prevent individuals in becoming like Ahab himself in terms of seeing nature as something to be "controlled" or "dominated over."  In this light, I think that the novel can be considered to be meaningful.  At the same time, I think that the complexity of character in Ahab is also something meaningful.  The prevailing desire in human judgment is to seek simple and reductive solutions.  Characters are either "villains" or "saints," representing "evil" or "good."  Ahab and even Moby Dick, himself, challenge this because of their complex nature.  On one hand, Ahab is to be admired because of his focus and his pursuit, as well as his authentic belief that what he is doing is right.  Yet, on another level, these are the very elements that might compel one to feel disdain towards him.  The whale, himself, might be another example of this complexity.  Is Moby- Dick evil or simply a creature in the wild?  Is what he does motivated by deliberate attempt or merely an example of its success at a Darwinian struggle for existence?  Is there any difference between it and Ahab, who consciously plots and covets the animal's demise?  When Gardiner recognizes the difference between a wild animal as opposed to an evil creature, it is a moment of recognition for the reader, as well.  There is a certain construction that Melville challenges in terms of how judgment in the modern setting is to be rendered.  As time has passed and historical understanding has developed, we have come to understand the complexity in our own leaders and people.  This, in many ways, is something seen in Melville's work and a reason for its relevancy in the modern setting.

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