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Moby Dick Premonitions Essay, Research Paper

Herman Melville employs numerous motifs in the novel Moby Dick that all serve some purpose, though that purpose is oftentimes somewhat ambiguous. One of the more peculiar motifs that I traced throughout the novel was Melville s strange tendency to foreshadow events to come. Normally, most novels attempt to maintain a certain amount of suspense until the climax, which usually contains some sort of surprise for the reader. But before getting even halfway through Moby Dick, the reader knows that when Ahab encounters Moby Dick, he will die. One would think that knowing the end to a novel would spoil it, but the methodology behind Melville s hints and the fashion in which they are presented only contribute to the excitement of the climax, and ultimately to the purpose of the novel itself.

The hints are absolutely everywhere in the novel; they are sometimes hidden, sometimes blatant, and sometimes confusing. And with every sign that Melville drops for the reader, the excitement builds up until the hopeless battle with Moby Dick. One of the first signs in the novel of the impending doom Ishmael will face is the name of the owner of the Spouter Inn: Coffin? Spouter? Rather ominous in that particular connexion, thought I (18). The chapel where people were worshipping the dead, and the two trees that looked like a gallows near the Try-Pots Inn add to the mounting number of signs telling Ishmael to back away. However, Ishmael is an educated man; despite these rather peculiar premonitions, he will not be deterred from his course. When the prophet Elijah warns them about Ahab, saying ..some sailors or other must go with him, I suppose; as well these as any other men, God pity em! (89) Ishmael tries to wave off the man s words as the ramblings of a trickster. But in truth he is worried about the upcoming voyage.

As the chase for Moby Dick progresses, the signs become more and more obvious that the mission was doomed from the start. Ishmael s authoring of his own will, the encounter with a giant squid, the warning from Gabriel, the construction of Queequeg s coffin, and many other signs all begin to accumulate. The effects of the speech that Ahab used to fire up the sailors are wearing off, and the sailors are truly beginning to fear for their lives. At one point near the end of their pursuit of Moby Dick, Starbuck, a man of morals and of God, actually seriously considers murdering Ahab: If, then, he were this instant put aside, that crime would not be his. (422). It also becomes increasingly evident that the signs being given to the Pequod are sent from heaven. The best example would probably be when Ahab climbs the crow s nest, and has his hat plucked off his head by a hawk. The imagery of a man climbing towards the heavens searching for a God, only to have his hat knocked off is somewhat reminiscent of the Greek myth of Theseus. Theseus attempted to reach Olympus and the Gods by flying on Pegasus towards the heavens, but he was struck down and killed. Ahab receives a warning from heaven, and luckily has only his hat removed. Unfortunately, he pays it no heed.

These strategically placed warnings are not meant to trick the reader and surprise them with a different ending; everything turns out as it was expected from the beginning. This whole story is told in hindsight, with an ambiance of doom prevalent throughout. There is a feeling of helplessness that is pervasive among all the characters. Starbuck, who disagrees openly with Ahab s quest, resigns himself early on in subservience to Ahab s will and his own fate: God keep me! keep us all! murmured Starbuck, lowly Ahab did not hear [Starbuck s] foreboding invocation (145). The men understand that they are doomed, they know that they are following a madmen on a suicide quest. But they are trapped, isolated on a boat where their only hope is to trust in Ahab s intellect and leadership. The helplessness of the situation adds to the mood of the novel. By knowing the ending and the plot of the novel, the reader is free to look beyond the superficial into the profound ideas Melville has throughout his book. It is a technique that is extremely effective in drawing the reader s attention to the greater meanings hidden within the text.

This is a rich, full novel. It is not an adventure story, it is not a suspense story; it is a naked representation of the futility of man s struggle against God. There is next to nothing between the reader and the true purpose behind Melville s writings other than the narration of Ishmael. He is the sole barrier between the Melville and his audience; he is simply a necessity to the format of a novel. What makes this work great is not the plot, the writing style, or the characters. Melville uses omens as a tool to reveal the plot to the reader, as they are guided towards an end that is both expected and craved.


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