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The second full paragraph of Chapter 47 of Herman Melville’s novel Moby-Dick has a number of purposes and effects, including the following:
- It emphasizes once more the friendship of Ishmael and Queequeg – a major theme of the novel.
- It emphasizes the idea of cooperation, equality, and mutuality between these two men, who serve on a ship dominated by a captain who is monomaniacal and who isolates himself from and above his men.
- There may perhaps be some humorous sexual connotations in the language of the second sentence. (Melville loves this kind of humor.)
- The calm, placid atmosphere here contrasts with, and thus helps highlight, all the action that will come later in the novel.
- This paragraph emphasizes Ishmael’s thoughtfulness, his tendency to meditate on things and engage in philosophical speculation.
- The paragraph explicitly emphasizes such major themes of the novel as Time and Fate (especially the latter).
- The theme of Fate, in particular, may be relevant to the role of Captain Ahab and especially of his relationship with his crew. It is easy to think of the determined, relentless Ahab as an
unchanging vibration, and that vibration merely enough to admit of the crosswise interblending of other threads with its own.
- Ishmael, however, himself interprets the weaving as follows:
This warp seemed necessity; and here, thought I, with my own hand I ply my own shuttle and weave my own destiny into these unalterable threads.
This whole long paragraph, then, can be seen as part of the novel’s larger meditations on the crucial issue of fate and free will. It suggests that even as we make our own choices we find ourselves caught up in and by larger forces over which we have no control.
- The paragraph also offers thoughts on the role in life of mere chance (in addition to fate and free will), thus suggesting that the fabrics of our lives are affected by at least three different forces whose final results no one can really predict.
- This paragraph, then, helps contribute to the thought-provoking philosophical richness which is one of the great features of Melville’s stirring book.
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