Suggested Essay Topics
1. Prove that Ishmael is an analytical, philosophical thinker by examining his reasons for going to sea. Give special attention to the reason he gives as his primary motive.
2. Discuss the biblical and classical allusions employed in Chapter I. Thoroughly explain each allusion and discuss its thematic implications.
Chapters II – IV
1. Explain how Melville uses the doubling technique in characterization. How are Ishmael and Queequeg different? How are they brought together? How does Queequeg’s appearance compare to his behavior?
2. Describe the setting of this section and tell how it contrasts with tone. Give specific details of the streets, the inn, the bar, and the bedroom. What tone does Melville use in this section? How does he achieve that tone?
Chapters V – IX
1. Compare Ishmael’s morbid thoughts upon entering the chapel to his more positive thoughts about death.
2. Discuss the theme of isolation as it relates to Father Mapple, Jonah, and Ishmael.
Chapters X – XV
1. Explain the analogy of the wheelbarrow and the punch. What point was Queequeg illustrating? What proof do we have that Ishmael has learned this lesson already?
2. List four adjectives that describe Queequeg. Support your choices by explaining what he says and does.
Chapters XVI – XVIII
1. Trace the development of the religious theme in this section. Consider Queequeg’s practices and beliefs, Ishmael’s ambiguous feelings, and the behavior of the two Quakers.
2. Explain how Melville piques our curiosity about Ahab. Include not only Peleg’s description of him, but also his experience with Ahab.
Chapters XIX – XXV
1. Compare the symbolic meaning of the land and the sea, respectively. What is it about the sea that suggests the freedom of thought? What is it about the land that suggests its symbolic meaning? How does Bulkington feel about the sea? Use direct quotations to support your ideas.
2. Discuss how various characters and circumstances provide foreshadowing in this section.
Chapters XXVI – XXXI
1. Compare the captain and officers of the Pequod: Ahab, Starbuck, Stubb, and Flask. Include physical descriptions, but concentrate on character.
2. What devices of style does Melville use to elevate his tale to tragedy? What is his purpose in doing this? Why does Melville wish to make the common man as noble as a Greek hero?
Chapters XXXII – XXXV
1. Explain the hierarchy of authority on the whaler. What are the “social forms” and customs which support that hierarchy? Give specific examples and describe the customs as they are observed on the Pequod.
2. What does the cetology chapter contribute to the theme of man’s understanding of his universe? Where is a seaman apt to gain such knowledge? How?
Chapters XXXVI – XL
1. Explain and comment on Starbuck’s argument against hunting Moby Dick. Explain and comment on Ahab’s argument for hunting Moby Dick. For what reasons does Starbuck acquiesce?
2. Describe the tactics Ahab uses to bind the men to him. Does it work? Describe the crew’s celebration.
Chapters XLI – XLII
1. Discuss the ambiguities associated with the meanings of whiteness. Choose several examples from Ishmael’s explanation to illustrate both the positive and negative interpretations. Why is Ishmael so appalled by the whiteness of Moby Dick?
2. Describe the legends that surround Moby Dick. What is actually known about him? What does he look like? Explain Ahab’s encounter with him. Describe Ahab’s suffering. What has the whale come to symbolize to him?
Chapters XLIII – XLVII
1. Discuss the symbolic meaning of the mat-making. First describe how Ishmael and Queequeg make the mat. Then explain what each component of the process symbolizes. Finally, tell why Ishmael’s interpretation is appropriate for the steps involved.
2. Ishmael frequently strays from his narrative to interject facts about whales and whaling, as he does in “The Affidavit.” What is an affidavit and why is it an appropriate title for this chapter? What is the content, tone, and purpose of the
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