Me v. Moby: Part Three
12:11 p.m. “All deep, earnest thinking is but the intrepid effort of the soul to keep the open independence of her sea … In landlessness alone resides the highest truth, shoreless, indefinite as God—so, better is it to perish in that howling infinite, than to be ingloriously dashed upon the lee, even if that were safety!”
In this one passage, Melville links his three most common themes up until this point: the sea, religion and death. First, he equates deep thought to the sea. Then, he says the sea is as indefinite as God. Finally, he says it is better to die in the indefinite sea (or God or deep thought, as all three are analogous) than to cling to the safety (and shallow thought) of the land.
Perhaps this is a stretch, but Melville (or, at least, Ishmael) seems to be making an argument for religion-less faith here. The characters in Moby Dick each have their own faith. Ishmael is Presbyterian, Quee prays to a Yogo (who, to the best of my knowledge, is an invention of Melville), Bildad is a Quaker and Peleg is a “good man of the swearing sort.”
However, all of the primary characters seem to entertain or accept each others’ faiths with the exception of Bildad. Bildad is genuinely concerned for Quee’s soul when he learns he is not Christian.
Ishmael specifically advocates for a universal faith when defending Peleg’s beliefs to the captains.
“I mean, sir, the same ancient Catholic Church to which you and I, and Captain Peleg there, and Queequeg here, and all of us, and every mother’s son and soul of us belong; the great and everlasting First Congregation of this whole worshipping world; we all belong to that; only some of us cherish some queer crotchets noways touching the grand belief; in that we all join hands.”
Ishmael’s equivocations make me think that while he is also connecting the sea with God, he is also connecting the land to safety, shallowness and clinging to an organized religion to the exclusion of others.
No? Too much?
12:27 p.m. And now Melville’s on a tangent about the respectability of whaling.
12:43 p.m. “Long usage had converted the jaws of death into an easy chair.” I like that metaphor.
12:51 p.m. Melville torpedoed his momentum by dedicating four chapters to defending whaling and describing the first, second and third mates. I’ve read about 30 pages waiting for something to happen.
My in-laws just arrived for a late lunch/early dinner. I’ll be back after that.
-Jason Lea, JLea@News-Herald.com