Moby-Dick is the one American story which every individual seems to recognize. Because of its pervasiveness into our country’s collective psyche, the tale has been reproduced in film and cartoon, and references to the characters and the whale can be found in commercials, sitcoms, and music, proving the novel to still be relevant today. It is the epitome of American Romanticism because it delves into the human spirit, the force of imagination, and power of the emotions and the intellect. The novel praises and critiques the American society in sharp and unequivocal terms, while, at the same time, mirroring this mixed society through the “multinational crew of...the Pequod” (Shaw 61). Melville, through his elaborate construction of the novel, “makes the American landscape a place for epic conquest” (Lyons 462). The primary draw of this novel is the story itself: a whaling ship, headed by a monomaniac, and the pursuit of a whale, or the American dream and its attainment, making a clear “connection between Romanticism and nationalism” (Evans 9). The novel calls upon the reader’s imagination, emotions, and intellect to fully understand the journey of the story, the journey which takes the reader on a most unusual trip into the soul of mankind.
The two primary characters, Ishmael and Ahab, are two parts of one whole. Ishmael is an Everyman; and as such, he is the ideal model of the emotions, the imagination, and the appreciation of the beauty and power of Nature, God, and man, coupled with timely infusions from his intellect and reasoning capabilities. He is clearly an articulate narrator who blends intellect and emotion, though at times he stays wholly within the reign of the emotions. Conversely, Ahab is the model of the intellect, the force of will and the darkness which accompanies intellectual obsession at the expense of emotional stability. When he delves into the spiritual and emotional parts of himself, he does so only briefly and with little comprehension. The two characters are clearly opposites to one another. But by the action’s end, Ishmael and Ahab begin to cross the lines into each other’s manner of thinking and explore, in their own way, the idea of self discovery. And it is this blending of thoughts and ideas which makes it blatantly clear for the reader that the entire novel is a contsruct of the whole foundation of American Romanticism, with all of the nationalistic pride this mode of writing entails. By meshing the Romantic ideals through the two primary characters, the novel further positions itself as catalist for all of these ideologies. Imagination, the forces of nature and man’s will, the connections between man, God, and nature, and the roles of the intellect and the emotions are all blended in Melville’s characterization of both Ahab and Ishmael.
The story’s beginning, which the reader does not discover until the end, is Ishmael’s “albatross.” This is a tale which Ishmael must...