Environmental Consciousness From The Days Of Moby Dick To Present Day

1159 words - 5 pages

Environmental Consciousness from the Days of Moby Dick to Present Day

Melville's oceans do not change: they are inexhaustible and eternal. Not so when we turn away from his pages. Today we see the global commons on the brink of tragedy. We see environmental groups emerging, transcending national boundaries in ways completely unknown to Melville. Through a juxtaposition of then and now, we can trace the process of change from "Moby Dick" to a new global consciousness, through a re-imagining of the oceans.

The stories we tell promote certain ideas and, in so doing, police social norms and construct common sense. At the same time, however, stories can reveal the underpinning categories for our understanding of the world. By naming the nameless, they enable us to recognize, question and critique our "truths" as historical constructions. Literary theorist Jonathan Culler thus posits two claims about literature: that it is both "the vehicle of ideology" and "an instrument for its undoing" (1:38).

Literature not only facilitates social change, but is itself subject to evolution. In spite of this fact, Melville proclaims: "To produce a mighty book, you must choose a mighty theme. No great and enduring volume can ever be written on the flea, though many there be who have tried it" (2:349).

"Moby Dick" commands scholarly attention, yet is it 'great and enduring' in the sense that Melville may have intended? I am not convinced that it holds us in the same grip of relevance that it may have readers of the nineteenth century. Instead, I believe that our interest in the novel reflects an interest in the artifact of a particular historical moment, in this 'vehicle of ideology'. "Moby Dick" is important not because it is a static pool of mighty themes, but because it is a crossroads for themes on their way to and from greatness.

To illustrate this point, I explore the evolution of a pair of connected themes: our vision of nature and our interaction with it. They represent the ecological and cultural dimensions to an ever-changing narrative about our place in the world.

Melville's understanding of nature is steeped more in indulgent mysticism than any appreciation of its ecological complexity. Imagining himself as one among thousands "fixed in ocean reveries" (2:18), he sees "the image of the ungraspable phantom of life" (2:20) in the oceans. In its endlessness, he finds his freedom. An endless ocean must, by extension, be endlessly populated. The whale is thus described as "immortal in his species, however perishable in his individuality" (2:354).

As long as this is 'true', sovereignty is king: every nation is free to draw from this eternal spring. In "Moby Dick", these exploitative practices are structured according to the imperialist order. Lawrence Buell, a literary theorist interested in environmentalist discourses and cultural nationalism, points out that Melville casts Americans to head a ship crewed by "a global village of...

Find Another Essay On Environmental Consciousness from the Days of Moby Dick to Present Day

The Duality of Man in Moby Dick

1297 words - 5 pages all the angels that fell from heaven." (518 Melville) Despite the seemingly lunacy implied by Ahab’s insistence that the white whale is an evil force, the ruthless efficacy with which Moby Dick defends himself seems to vindicate Ahab in the end.  It is this mutual malevolency that is the impetus for the downward spiral of violence begetting violence that culminates in the mutual destruction of Ahab and Moby Dick.      In being left

Take a passage from Moby Dick and explain the symbols of the book within the passage

1262 words - 5 pages nothingness, Moby Dick may well be the mask of a God that no one suspects exists in the universe. The sea is dark, mysterious, and dangerous. At any moment, Moby Dick, or some equally unknowable monster (a giant squid, perhaps), can rise from the depths to destroy the fragile world of the sailor. In the end, Ahab and the crew of the Pequod struggle for three days with the leviathan from the deep. The good vs. evil factor in this novel takes a part in

gams of moby dick

1024 words - 5 pages humanity during the three-day-long chase for Moby-Dick, fails to kill the White Whale, a task which the Rachel, the Jeroboam, and the Samuel Enderby have attempted, though with divergent ideas of will and understanding. As determined as Ahab may be, man cannot defeat God’s overpowering plan. Ishmael, the only survivor from the Pequod’s crew, is saved by a coffin and “the devious-cruising Rachel,” as Melville reveals in the epilogue with a

Religion of Moby Dick

736 words - 3 pages pagans, Ishmael stays true to his Christian ways. Through the abundance of characters placed in Moby-Dick, there are a few in particular who can be compared to certain religious figures very closely. These of which include Ahab, Ishmael, and Moby Dick. Ahab can be related to the Greek myth of Prometheus. Prometheus stole fire from Zeus to reach a higher state of being. Ahab has taken it upon himself to avenge those who have been wronged by Moby

Analysis of Moby-Dick

1927 words - 8 pages ; whosoever of ye raises me that white headed whale with three holes punctured in his starboard fluke – look ye, whosoever of ye raises me that same white whale, he shall have this gold ounce, my boys” (Melville 233). With this golden doubloon, Ahab convinces his crew to hunt for the great ravaging monster known as Moby-Dick. In a story about implications and perspectives, where narratives shift from character to character, what does a doubloon

The Downfall of Man in Macbeth and Moby Dick

2544 words - 10 pages continues to pursue Moby Dick, and on the third day of the chase, Captain Ahab is pulled down to the depths of the ocean by a wire from his own crewmember's harpoon; The harpoon was darted; the stricken whale flew forward; with igniting velocity the line ran through the groove;--ran foul. Ahab stooped to clear it; he did clear it; but the flying turn caught him round the neck, and voicelessly as Turkish mutes bowstring

Moby Dick and the origin of "American hero"

745 words - 3 pages Moby Dick begins with the narrator's statement: "Call me Ishmael." The statement communicates the narrator's feelings of identity with the biblical Ishmael, Abraham's son with Hagar. After Sarah, Abraham's legitimate wife, gave birth to Isaac, Ishmael was disinherited in favor of his younger half-brother, and renounced by his father. He and his mother were thrown out of the family home, forced to live in wilderness and provide for themselves

The Development of Popular Music from the 1960's to Present Day

910 words - 4 pages music. Bob Dylan began as a protest singer, setting his lyrics (sometimes expressing anti-war views as in "Masters of War") to traditional folk tunes, country numbers, or blues.Dylan later went onto play with a rock band, bringing the folk style to rock from his earlier days as a protest singer, and because of this most of his work is musical poetry rather than the standard 'boy meets girl, boy loves girl, boy loses girl, boy gets girl back

The History of Ethnocentrism in Australian from Confederation to Present Day

684 words - 3 pages ethnocentric value. Ethnocentrism is the tendency to look at the world primarily from the perspective of one principle culture. This was particularly evident in the progression of immigration policies and the treatment of certain ethnic groups and refugees in particular incidents. The immigration policies of Australia in the early 20th century demonstrated the ethnocentric notions of the Australian government and society. In 1901, Australia’s first

Moby Dick: Symbols To Draw Attention

1206 words - 5 pages Often in great works of literature, symbols are incorporated to add depth. These symbols make it more interesting to the reader by making connections from one idea to another. Herman Melville depicts a great number of characters and symbols in his 19th century novel Moby Dick. Melville uses symbols to develop plot, characters, and to give the reader a deeper interpretation of the novel. (Tucker) The author successfully uses the symbols of

The Whale as Symbol in Moby Dick

1226 words - 5 pages "overwhelming idea"(Melville, 6): an idea which is larger than his consciousness. Its implications surpass his conscious understanding and cause him to feel significance even if he can not know it. Melville represents much that one can know about the white whale. Moby Dick is literally an albino sperm whale. In his categorization of all whales, Melville regards the sperm whale as the primate: "He is, without a doubt, the

Similar Essays

The History Of Beer In America: Describes The Early Roots Of Beer In America From The First Breweries Til The Days Of Prohibition Til Present Day

715 words - 3 pages early English settlers of North America relied primarily on the importation of English beers. However, two breweries were established in 1629 which used maize instead of barley. The Dutch colony of New Amsterdam, unlike most other colonies in the New World, relied primarily on local breweries instead of importing beer from the homeland. New Amsterdam was the first and biggest brewing center in the New World, and continued to be so even after being

The Plot Of "Moby Dick" Essay

1018 words - 4 pages his leg in an encounter with a sperm whale on his last voyage.The Pequod leaves Nantucket on Christmas Day with a crew made up of men from many different countries and races. Soon the ship is in warmer waters, and Ahab makes his first appearance on deck balancing gingerly on his false leg. He announces his desire to pursue and kill Moby Dick,the legendary great white whale who took his leg because he sees this whale as the embodiment of evil. Ahab

Surface: The Key To Understanding Moby Dick

3294 words - 13 pages Surface: The Key to Understanding Moby-Dick There are many key themes and words in Herman Melville's Moby-Dick. One of the more interesting words found repeatedly is the word surface. There are several ways to interpret this word; it is the veil under which the unknown resides, it is the dividing line between the limits of human knowledge and that which is unknowable, it is the barrier that protects the soul from falling below, and it

The Innumerable Meanings Of Moby Dick

829 words - 3 pages The Innumerable Meanings of Moby Dick Call me Ishmael. The first line of this story begins with an assertion of self-identity. Before the second page is reached, it becomes quite clear to me that within this assertion of self-identity lay an enticing universality. Ishmael represents every man somehow and no man entirely. He is an individual in his own right, while personifying a basic human desire for something more, something extraordinary