While everyone else perishes, what is it about Ishmael that deems him worthy of survival (Other than his being a narrator)?Moby Dick by Herman Melville

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mwestwood eNotes educator| Certified Educator

As the narrator of Moby Dick, Ishmael is the voice of his author Herman Melville who contemplates the inscrutableness of the universe. Melville, who once said that the sea was his teacher, employs the sea as teacher of Ishamel.

1.  Ishamel represents man's isolation.

Ishmael, like his Biblical name is a rootless individual, and as a loner, he can be more objective than other men.  Even though he feels that Queequeq is his "own inseparable twin brother" as he holds the monkey-rope in Chapter 49, he realizes that he only has "the management of one end of it."  When his friend Queequeq decides to have his coffin made and to die, Ishmael understands nothing of the pagan's soul or heart.  Even though he squeezes the sperm from the whales with the others and shake hands warmly with them, Ishmael does not know the inner workings of their hearts, either. Thus, Ishmael represents the aloneness of man and is picked up by the Rachel

that in her retracing search after her missing children, only found another orphan. (Epilogue)

2.  Ishmael expresses Herman Melville's perception of the inexplicability of the universe

Try as hard as he can to analyze and explicate the workings and properties of the whale, Ishmael does not understand the creature who wears "a pasteboard mask" as Ahab describes this inscrutability of nature.  On many occasions, Ishmael expresses a feeling about the Fates as he senses the unsympathetic and irresistible force of Nature. Therefore, his character represents the inexplicability of the universe as he senses the interplay of fate and chance. In Chapter96, for instance, Ishmael narrates,

So seemed it to me, as I stood at her helm, and for long hours silently guided the way of the fireship on the sea.  wrapped, for that interval, in darkness myself, I but the better saw the redness, the madness, the ghastliness of others.  the continual sight of the fiend shapes before me, capering half in smoke and half in fire, these at last begat that unaccountable drowsiness which ever would come over me at the midnight helm.

Besides being the narator who is the most objective of characters and who has an eagerness to learn, Ishmael best represents the isolation of man.  In addition, in his sometimes ineffective attempts to explain what happens throughout the novel, Ishmael conveys to the reader the interplay of fate and chance.