What characteristic of Romantic literature does Herman Melville's "Moby-Dick" contain?

Quick answer:

In "Moby Dick", Melville uses "Dark Romanticism," the love of the sublime, in his descriptions of Captain Ahab, the White Whale (Moby Dick), and the sea.

Expert Answers

An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

The "Dark Romanticism" in Moby Dick is also closely related to the love of the sublime that English and American writers from the late-1700s to the early-1800s relished (primarily the Gothic writers from 1790 to 1830).  The meaning of "sublime" in today's vernacular is quite different from the way "sublime"...

This Answer Now

Start your 48-hour free trial to unlock this answer and thousands more. Enjoy eNotes ad-free and cancel anytime.

Get 48 Hours Free Access

was used several centuries ago.  Then, sublime primarily had this meaning: "impressing the mind with a sense of grandeur or power;inspiring awe, veneration, etc." (Dictionary.com).  Things that were "sublime" were absolutely unexplainable, but literature of that time period attempted to explain the unexplainable, and, in falling short, further evoke a sublime reaction in readers.

The end of Chapter 16 is a perfect example of Melville's use of the sublime.  At this point Ishmael and the reader have learned only a little about Captain Ahab.  The narrator's curiosity about him piques the reader's curiosity as well:

As I walked away, I was full of thoughtfullness; what had been incidentally revealed to me of Captain Ahab, filled me with a certain wild vagueness of painfulness concerning him.  And somehow, at the time, I felt a sympathy adn a sorrow for him, but for I don't know what, unless it was the cruel loss of his leg.  And yet I also felt a strange awe of him; but that sort of awe, which I cannot at all describe, was not exactly awer: I don not know what it was.  But I felt it; and it did not disincline me towards him; though I felt impatience at what seemed like mystery in him, so imperfectly as he was known to me then. (This is from p 79 of the 2nd Norton Critical Edition)

Ishmael is mysteriously attracted to, while simultaneously repelled, by Ahab, and he has no idea why--the feelings are beyond his control.

Once you start to notice Melville's use of the sublime, you'll see it everywhere--in his characterizations of Queequeg, in the way he describes the sea, and certainly in Ahab's relationship to Moby Dick.

Approved by eNotes Editorial