Moby Dick Commentary

A commentary on Melville's use of subversive religious inferences, during a period of fervent religious faith, throughout

Throughout Melville's writing of Moby Dick, subversive religious inferences are prevalent and posed to the audience. The whale head is likened to the protective covering that encompasses an inner spirituality within the whale. The "sanctum sanctorum" described is the temple surrounding the Arc of the Lord and Ishmael equates the whale head to this shelter. This idea allows for a spiritual reverence relegated solely to the Lord to be transferred to an animal. In addition, the vast "forehead" on the whale instills fear and awe into the public, akin to witnessing the presence of God. In religious doctrines, the actual presence of God supposedly instills fear into the people, not the mere object exhibiting the presence of God. Ishmael states that the forehead is so immense that one feels "the Deity and the dread powers more forcibly than beholding any other object in living nature." This attitude goes against the accepted principles of religion in that people should fear God, yet nothing else should cause fear because God will protect those who follow his commandments and maintain fear of the Lord.

Ishmael disputes what prophets of God have spoken about the whale population involving the whale's resistance to destruction by the hands of humans. These prophets state that mortals cannot conquer the Leviathan, yet the whaling industry has proven these statements to be incorrect. Therefore, Ishmael laments that "unfulfilments should follow the prophets." By stating that prophets have led people astray by their sacred prophesying, a challenge is posed to God. Prophets are supposedly agents of an all-knowing God, yet the powers of God are disputed because the traditional view of God would forbid his servants from stating falsehoods to the public.

An additional irreligious reference occurs while Ishmael is describing the bloody atrocities associated with the capture of whales in the whaling industry. Ishmael links these atrocities to the church by saying that the oil obtained from whaling "illuminates the solemn churches that preach unconditional inoffensiveness by all to all." Therefore, the speeches made in church preaching the equality of all creatures is extremely hypocritical because the very lights that they are illuminating the church congregation has been obtained from bloody injustices towards fellow creatures.

Additionally, the sacred rite of anointing the chosen things for God's purposes is also discussed in Moby Dick. Queequeg decides that the whaling ship should be anointed and thus, he alone decides to anoint the ship. This depiction allows Queequeg the sacred right of intimate involvement within the anointing process, something traditionally relegated to a pious individual. Queequeg fails to fit this description because he is a pagan and his actions subvert traditional religious ideals. Anointing occurs through the intervention of God and the anointing of the Pequod fails to be a sacred or spiritual communion with the Lord.

Due to the prevalence of religious statements throughout Moby Dick, Herman Melville's inferences are definitely more than merely mischievous fun. He is writing at an extremely religious period in American history and he wants to test the religious strength and conviction of his audience. Melville is not a religious fanatic and he wants his readers to question whether their religious beliefs are truly their own or whether they are simply extensions from the acceptable views of society. Herman Melville seems to elevate the individual throughout his writings and he encourages his readers against accepting the ideals posed by mainstream society.

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