Melville Shows Anger At Christianity Through Biblical Allusions In Moby Dick

1356 words - 5 pages

Near the beginning of Moby Dick, Father Mapple reminds Pequod sailors of the biblical prophet Jonah and his unique encounter with a whale. The whale, known as a Leviathan in the Bible, swallows Jonah because Jonah refuses to obey God's command to preach to a wicked group of people. Father Mapple in his sermon says, "If we obey God, we must disobey ourselves; and it is in this disobeying ourselves, wherein the hardness of obeying God consists" (47). Once Jonah admits his sinfulness and follows his maker, the whale frees Jonah. Father Mapple says that obeying God can be difficult and might not seem logical to the person listening.
Once Father Mapple speaks about Jonah and the whale, it becomes clear that Herman Melville's 1851 novel has a connection to the Bible and Christianity. Melville fills Moby Dick with several biblical allusions, and the novel's main characters are linked symbolically to figures in the Bible. Melville alludes to the Bible in Moby Dick to mock Christianity. He uses his primary characters of Ishmael, Ahab, and Moby Dick to make God seem like a judgmental being who has no pity on sinners unless they obey him. He also portrays faithful Christians as outsiders who
live boring, uninspired lives. Melville definitely shows his frustration toward the creator and Christian teachings.
Before exploring Ishmael, Ahab, and Moby Dick and their Biblical counterparts, it is important to understand Melville's background. He grew up as a baptized Calvinist in the Dutch Reformed Church. His parents trained him to obey God at all times, even if God’s commands seem unjust and cruel. However, he quickly turned against his faith after his father died. During his travels, he witnessed diseases, catastrophes, and hatred throughout the world. He also observed numerous hypocritical actions among believers, and he didn't agree with many Calvinist doctrines. He wondered if God cared. He displays his disagreements with God and Christian teachings through the main characters of Moby Dick.
Ishmael, the novel's narrator, represents the true Christian. He's immediately portrayed as someone different from the rest of Moby Dick's cast of characters. Although he is an intelligent and insightful person, he is ignorant when it comes to shipping and whaling. He only boards the Pequod to "gr[o]w merry again" in an attempt to add some adventure to his lackluster life (38). Throughout Moby Dick, the other sailors treat him as an outcast because of his lack of sea knowledge. Through it all, Ishmael displays unwavering faith when he downplays the dangers of whaling. When he says his “body is but the lees of my better being," he believes no physical harm can injure his soul (39). The salvation of his immortal soul is all that matters. The Ishmael of the Bible shares parallels with the one in Moby Dick. The son of Abraham and his servant Hagar, Ishmael became disowned by his family in favor
of his half-brother Isaac. Isaac was born to Abraham and his wife...

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