What has made me decide to read Moby Dick? It's hearing the fanatical Moby Dick fan talk about the vast themes of the book.
Nathaniel Philbrick is so enamored of Moby Dick that he wrote an entire book called Why Read Moby Dick? and, of course, I read that. "It's as close to being our American Bible as we have," Philbrick tells us in an interview with NPR. Moby Dick contains the "genetic code" of America, he goes on to say, and, as Americans, we will always go back to it "whenever we will run into an imminent cataclysm."
Curious to know more, I searched for the themes found in Moby Dick by others.
Austin Allen in an article in Big Think tells us that the "long stretches of tedium interrupted by bursts of gripping excitement" in the book are exactly like a whale hunt. "The novel all but dares you not to finish it," he adds, prodding us further, "lest you fail like Ahab." Then Allen jabs us with a harpoon: "This is a feat of endurance, captain."
For Philip Hoare, writing in The New Yorker, "In an age of uncertain faith, then as now, “Moby-Dick” resembles a religious tract, an alternative testament." It took Hoare time to become a convert, but once he started reading, he found he couldn't stop. Hoare says it's not a book at all. "It’s more an act of transference, of ideas and evocations hung around the vast and unknowable shape of the whale, an extended musing on the strange meeting of human history and natural history," he gushes.
Mark Beauregard finds that Moby Dick "just won't die." It provides perfect analogies and symbols and themes for today's world. "Moby Dick as a symbol of nature’s resistance to human will has become more powerful and terrifying than ever," Beauregard tells us in Literary Hub. In the last American election, some Americans wanted monomaniacal Captain Ahab (Trump), Beauregard says, while others looked for a radical populist Ishmael (Sanders).
In The Atlantic, Joe Fassler writes, "It's been called a whaling yarn, a theodicy, a Shakespeare-styled political tragedy, an anatomy, a queer confessional, an environmentalist epic; because this novel seems to hold all the world, all these readings are compatible and true."
Wow. There's a lot of love out there for this book.
Looking further, I find a long list of themes found in Moby Dick:
Fate and free will
Man and the natural world
Limits of human knowledge
Good and evil
Consciousness and instinct
Surfaces and depths
Struggle and acceptance
Sin and redemption
Fraternity and friendship
Madness and obsession
Civilized and pagan societies
It's all there.
And that's why everyone should read Moby Dick.
Top Ten Tuesday was created by The Broke and the Bookish in June of 2010 and was moved to That Artsy Reader Girl in January of 2018. It was born of a love of lists, a love of books, and a desire to bring bookish friends together. Each Tuesday That Artsy Reader Girl assigns a topic and then post her top ten list that fits that topic. You’re more than welcome to join her and create your own top ten (or 2, 5, 20, etc.) list as well. Feel free to put a unique spin on the topic to make it work for you! Please link back to That Artsy Reader Girl in your own post so that others know where to find more information.