Recommended for those interested in: Metaphors, adventure, mystery, philosophy, human nature
Ishmael, feeling depressed with his mundane life, decides it is time for him to go on a voyage. The novel is an account of him in a whaling boat named Pequod, as they search for the White Whale. In Ishmael’s words: “Whenever I find myself growing grim about the mouth; whenever it is a damp, drizzly November in my soul; whenever I find myself involuntarily pausing before coffin warehouses, and bringing up the rear of every funeral I meet; and especially whenever my hypos get such an upper hand of me, that it requires a strong moral principle to prevent me from deliberately stepping into the street, and methodically knocking people’s hats off—then, I account it high time to get to sea as soon as I can. This is my substitute for pistol and ball.”
The novel is set in the whaling era of 1850s. A whaling ship is shown to be a true place of tolerance where people of different races from all over the world work together in harmony, putting their skills to use. The tolerance that couldn’t be achieved even today on land was found in the whalers of 1850s.Thinking of his cannibal friend Queequeg, Ishamel says: “Better sleep with a sober cannibal than a drunken Christian.”
The book is full of metaphors and subtleties. One cannot help but think of the white whale as an allegorical representation of God himself. Ishmael engages in philosophical thoughts gazing at the vast sea and sky, sitting on top of the mast, taking us along. As we read, we take a voyage with people who have seen death countless times, been in and out of it. When asked if he thought about Death and Judgement at times of peril, Captain Peleg says:
”Death and the Judgment then? What? With all three masts making such an everlasting thundering against the side; and every sea breaking over us, fore and aft. Think of Death and the Judgment then? No! no time to think about Death then. Life was what Captain Ahab and I was thinking of; and how to save all hands—how to rig jury-masts—how to get into the nearest port; that was what I was thinking of!”
Throughout the book, Ishmael supplements us with knowledge of whaling, drawing references from subjects like geography; cetology; Greek, Egyptian, Indian art and myth.