Thematic Analysis

Herman Melville 

        In the novel Moby Dick by Herman Melville, there are many themes included in the novel. A theme is a universal concept, idea or message that the author wishes to convey. This is usually something that readers can relate to . In this story, Melville explores the themes of obsession vs. revenge, life vs. death and civilized vs.  civilized. These themes are developed throughout the novel, which helps  readers become more engaged in the novel.

     In the novel, obsession vs. revenge demonstrates how a person's obsession can lead them to death. Specifically,  Captain Arab was so obsessed with capturing Moby Dick, that he would do whatever he could to kill him. This became an obsession for him because he wanted to be the first person to capture the Great White Whale. Not only that, but he wanted to get revenge on the whale that made him lose one of his legs, a couple of years prior. This causes Moby Dick to take revenge on Arab and his crew members; this is because they wouldn't leave him alone. As soon as Arab was about to slaughter the whale, Moby Dick was able  to break Arab's ship in half, thus causing Arab and his crew members to have to stay in their hunting boats. This indication of having lost their ship and everything on it should have been enough evidence that going after the whale wasn't such a good idea. Since it was able to destroy the ship, then  he would surly be able to destroy the boats. However, this only encourages Arab to go after the whale, for he knows that he has injured it. It takes Arab until the last day to realize that he had made a bad decision when he tells Starbuck "Some men die at ebb tide; some at low water; some at the full flood;-and I fell now like a billow that's all one crested comb, Starbuck"(Melville 413)This helps us realize that he has finally acknowledged his mistake. This doesn’t help, however, because for Moby Dick then strikes his revenge, making everyone fall at sea. No one from Arab crew survives except Ishmael who lives to tell the tale of Moby Dick, the Great White Whale.

    Another theme that is presented in the novel is life vs. death, which is also illustrated symbolically throughout the novel. This is because Ishmael is able to survive by grabbing hold of Queebeaq’s coffin.  A coffin is usually a sign of death but in this case, it becomes the opposite. This is so because the coffin was made for Queebeaq,  after he was struck with fever no one thought that he would  survive. According to his religion, he had a coffin made the way he wanted in order for him to have a proper burial. As soon as everyone else believed that he was about to die, he recovers. This turns ironic because in the end of the third day when Moby Dick sticks and everyone is trapped in the middle of the sea, Ishmael is able to find the coffin. The coffin then is shown as giving life. For Ishmael is able to grab hold of the coffin and save himself from drowning.

     A third theme that is developed is that concerning the nature of being  civilized vs. uncivilized. In the novel,  being the text discusses uncivilized people,  which includes Queebeq. This is because since he was born and raised by cannibals, Queebeq  acts differently. For example, his religion is different than what most people would considered civilized,  He prays to Yoyo, a god who will show him the right path to follow. When Queebeeq does this he doesn’t talk, eat, or sleep because in order for Yoyo to hear his prayers, he must spend a whole entire day praying to him. This may seem awkward to some people and even ridicules for they don’t believe in such a god. Not only is his religion known to be uncivilized but all the tattoos he has on him body make Queebeeq seem unrealistic and approachable. For there are characters in the novel who are scared of him, but this could also be the result of him carrying his harpoon wherever he goes. This is something that civilized people don’t do. This is something that Melville chose to show in this novel in order for people to able to understand the differences between people and their  various beliefs.

      Melville used many different types of themes throughout his novel. Without these themes people wouldn’t find the novel interesting for they wouldn’t be able to relate to anything that the author is trying to convey. This novel has become a classic novel because of the well developed themes that Melville used throughout the novel.


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