Within the pages of Herman Melville’s Moby-Dick lives one of the most unique narrators in literature; he goes by the name “Ishmael.” With “nothing particular to interest [him] on shore” (Melville 18) and a need to go to sea whenever he turns “hazy about the eyes” (Melville 20). Ishmael embarks on an adventure of self discovery as a “substitute to pistol and ball” (Melville 18), thus this journey is vital to ease his deep spiritual malaise. Now it is understandable why Ishmael initiates his travels but Ishmael still leaves his readers with many unanswered questions, the most pressing of which being; who is Ishmael?
“Call me Ishmael” (Melville 18), one of the most recognizable opening lines in literature, introduces one of the most interesting narrators in literature. What makes this sentence so recognizable is that Ishmael, the narrator, tells you exactly what he wants you to know starting with unusual use of imperative verb form. Ishmael commands the reader to call him “Ishmael” but interestingly the reader does not decisively know if Ishmael is indeed his given name as he is never addressed by name in the text. This somewhat diminishes the integrity of Ishmael as a narrator as the reader has no confirmation of whether the story is of valid origin or completely imagined.
First begin to see how he is a controlling narrator here, how even though this is written in first person he is only along for the ride
To better understand what Ishmael might be all about we can start with the first piece of information he gives the reader about himself, his name. Ishmael is traditionally a Hebrew name meaning “God listens” or something of slight variation. The name also has close ties to the bible with Ishmael being the son of Abraham by Sarah’s Egyptian servant Hagar. Ishmael of the bible is banished to “the wilderness of Beersheba” (Genesis 21:14) where similarly Ishmael of Moby-Dick banishes himself to “the wilderness of waters” (Melville 307). In the bible the wilderness or desert is where one goes to find answers, again similarly to the bible Ishmael sets out on this voyage searching for insight.
One of the reasons Ishmael is so powerful as a narrator is that among a boatful of men he is the only one who is there purely of his own choice, this decisive action empowers Ishmael’s unique...