Quests & Questions

Ahab had only one question: "Hast thou seen the white whale?" We have a lot more.

Anonymous:
  • On what level does the plot satisfy its readers' expectations? and, conversely, on what level does it defy expectations?

  • How is this a naturalist next? (How is the difference between mass market and literature (art) measured by the extent to which humanity is allowed to prevail?


  • Amy:
  • Can we say that the theme is man vs. Fate? Isn't there more than that in the relationship between man and whale?

  • What is the significance of the characters Starbuck and Stubb in the novel?


  • Meghan:
  • Why does Ishmael and Queequeg's friendship, so intimate and powerful at the outset, all but disappear throughout most of the rest of the novel?

  • I still want to figure out why the extreme explanations of and descriptions of whales. . .

  • How would the typical white, middle-class, Protestant female reader connect or disconnect with this text?


  • Carolyn:
  • I'd like to discuss the many things that the White Whale represents (God, the devil, fate, Nature).

  • I'd like to discuss Ishmael, where he stands at the beginning, middle and end of the novel. How does he function as character (mostly at the beginning) and as narrator throughout?

  • Is the novel's structure purposeful or accidental? In other words, did Melville intend to steer the audience away from plot or did he become carried away with his broad topic?


  • Ben:
  • Where does Ishmael go at the end of the novel, does he really disappear, or does he linger in the background, does his voice color the narration, even in the chapters dominated by Ahab?

  • I would like to ponder the themes of light and darkness. Are the night scenes different from the day scenes? What are the sources of light in the novel? of darkness?


  • Stephen:
  • I've been wondering what happened to Melville to make him write something so unbelievably different -- from his previous writing and from the writing of his day. Obviously this would entail looking at some of Melville's letters and at "Hawthorne and His Mosses" and the terms that he employs to define art. Can the change be explained, as the early critics would have it, by the fact that Melville was giving in to his "transcendental mystic" tendencies?


  • Charlene:
  • Tatooing, piercings, missing and/or artificial limbs are only a few of the manifestations of bodily marking in the novel. Racial or ethnic specificity also forms another type of "marking." My question is what do we make of this? One of the first things we find out about Queequeg is that he is tatooed. Ahab's leg is first made fun of because of the sound it makes on the deck. It is referred to as "ivory," but is what bone made of ivory? How does bodily marking and "mutilation" speak to the novel's colonial theme?


  • Anonymous:
  • How does Melville deconstruct whiteness in the chapter "The Whiteness of the Whale"?

  • How is instability of white/black binary illuminated in this same chapter?


  • Anonymous:
  • The novel opens with Ishmael, the narrator, but at times the reader loses sight of him almost entirely as the prose assumes an almost omniscient perspective. Why does Melville include Ishmael as a narrator given this trajectory of voice?


  • Anonymous:
  • How "modern" a character is Ahab? Melville seems to have created an early existentialist but how does Ahab fit into the nineteenth century?

  • Is Moby Dick God or the Devil? How should we understand Moby Dick as a symbol?

  • What does the book say about 19th century democracy?


  • Cary:
  • What is the relevance of the novel in 1852? Why was the book written when it was?

  • How does it help us to live a more productive life?


  • Suzanne:
  • What does the novel have to say about slavery? about the slavery question in America?

  • Not a question, really, but let's talk about language. How does the novel work on a small scale?


  • And Ahab would still like to ask: "Hast thou seen the white whale?" See you Wednesday.