Religious Archetypes in Moby Dick, Billy Budd, and Bartleby the Scrivener
Herman Melville's use of Biblical overtones gives extra dimensions to his works. Themes in his stories parallel those in the Bible to teach about good and evil. Melville emphasizes his characters' qualities by drawing allusions, and in doing so makes them appear larger than life. In the same way that the Bible teaches lessons about life, Herman Melville's stories teach lessons about the light and dark sides of human nature. He places his readers in situations that force them to identify with right or wrong choices. In Moby Dick, Billy Budd, and "Bartleby the Scrivener," Melville encourages his readers to learn from his explanations of human nature and strive for a better society.
Melville's Moby Dick is the saga of a whaling voyage gone awry when the Pequod's Captain Ahab leads his crew, not to hunt for profit, but to hunt the White Whale who took one of his legs. Captain Ahab's idolatrous relationship with the White Whale, Moby Dick, parallels King Ahab's idol worship. Captain Ahab represents all idolaters. His obsession approaches Biblical proportions. In First Kings in the Old Testament, King Ahab, who is "weak-willed" (Hertz 699), is controlled and influenced by his wife Jezebel. He neglects his responsibility as King of the Israelites, and leads his people astray to the worship of Baal. In doing so, he breaks the Second Commandment: "thou shalt have no other gods" (Hertz 295). Similarly, Captain Ahab leads his crew away from their job as whalers. As Mr. Starbuck says, "I came here to hunt whales, not my commander's vengeance"(Moby 162). Led by feelings of revenge and anger, Ahab uses the crew to search for his God. He ignores his duty as the captain of the Pequod and becomes fixated on finding Moby Dick, his idol. He constantly invests his time and jeopardizes his crew's lives in his effort to confront his faulty God. Because of his need for religious comfort, Ahab turns the whaling voyage into a personal quest, using his crew as a tool for revenge. Melville parallels his work to The Bible to raise the character of Ahab to a higher level. The Bible is known to most readers around the world. Its lessons and values teach people how to lead moral and virtuous lives. Ahab's nature and obsession demonstrate his evil, but comparing him to the Biblical King who sinned against God and poorly ruled God's people makes Captain Ahab's evil represent an extreme of human nature. In "declaring Moby Dick not only ubiquitous, but immortal (for immorality is but ubiquity in time)" (Moby 181), Melville shows how Moby Dick appears to be God-like. As the real God watches over all his people no matter where they are, Moby Dick is found everywhere at the same time.
The words of Melville's Elijah in Moby Dick parallel the prophecies of the Biblical prophet Elijah. After King Ahab led the Israelites to worship Baal, Elijah, who was...