Homework Help

Why does Ishmael alone survive at the end of Melville's Moby Dick?

user profile pic

johnsmith1492 | (Level 3) eNoter

Posted September 29, 2011 at 10:19 PM via web

dislike 1 like

Why does Ishmael alone survive at the end of Melville's Moby Dick?

1 Answer | Add Yours

user profile pic

Karen P.L. Hardison | College Teacher | eNotes Employee

Posted September 30, 2011 at 12:05 AM (Answer #1)

dislike 2 like

Ishmael is the objective voice of reason and insight that comes to understand and interpret Ahab's monomania. Ishmael even goes so far as to garner some of the same feeling as Ahab himself possesses. In other words, he is willing to see the White Whale as the emblem of that element of things unseen that is horrible:

“Though in many of its aspects this visible world seems formed in love,” he says, “the invisible spheres were formed in fright.”

Ishmael's understanding and acceptance of Ahab's stance also allows him to be the philosophical voice that realizes that multiplicity paradoxically embodies unity while diverse parts paradoxically generates oneness. Specifically, the White Whale has no one definitive meaning, only a multiplicity of meanings that ultimately unite while the diverseness of individuals on the Pequod generates oneness as each contribute to the whole of experience. In addition, as suggested in the quote, Ishmael understands the potential for evil in the "terrible unseen."

Retribution, swift vengeance, eternal malice were in his whole aspect

It is for these reasons, his role as empathizer with Ahab and his role as insightful philosopher carrying Melville's message, that Ishmael is the one to survive and is the sole survivor. n other words, the messages of unity in diversity, of oneness in diverse groups, of potential evil in the unseen carry the importance of the novel; overriding importance is not given to the fate of the characters.

Join to answer this question

Join a community of thousands of dedicated teachers and students.

Join eNotes