Book reviews, musings and waffle from a British lit addict
November 14, 2015
Moby Dick Read-Along: Belated Week Four Thoughts
I was away last week and didn’t get to pitch into Hanna’s passive-aggressive assault on Week Four’s chapters. I have some feelings and they need sharing. Also, I didn’t at all get time to do Week Three’s prompts either so it’s high time I got something into the #letsreadmobydick fray.
My main feeling right now (especially now that I’ve now also finished Week Five’s reading) is relief that we’ve made it this far!
1) Please tell me you didn’t attempt to read this week’s chapters whilst eating. How did you find the… instructive aspects of these chapters?
I did not, thankfully. Those chapters were harrowing. I was surprised, actually, by just how unpleasant I found them. It’s not that I thought that whale harpoonings and…’processing’ would make for nice bedtime reading, just that I didn’t expect them to be so gory. It seemed to come out of nowhere! One minute, we’re bumbling along and being bored to tears with excruciating details of rope and then BAM. Horrific.
2) What tactics have you been employing to get through this book? Marking off chapters? Reading online summaries? Crying into the pages?
Very similar to when we tackled War and Peace, actually. I’m reading it on my Kindle and I have it set to show the ‘time remaining’ in the chapter. It’s not really that accurate but I find that going onto a new chapter it’s quite comforting to be able to tell myself that it’ll be over in just a few minutes. I do try to avoid accidentally “clicking” onto ‘time remaining in book’, though. Nothing good comes from that.
3) Why do you think Moby Dick has become a classic?
I honestly have no idea. I’ve been thinking about this a lot while we’ve been reading. My fledgling conclusion is that there is something about Great American Novels that I just don’t get. I’m utterly at a loss as to just what thousands of modern readers have seen in this book that must be preserved and shared for generations to come. I can see why it might have been fascinating in the late 1800s, say, when knowledge of the world wasn’t as expansive and they couldn’t just pop on a David Attenborough documentary and learn about the anatomy of whales in a far more charming manner. Now, though? No.
My personal opinion is that this is a classic case of readers and academics imposing metaphors and symbolism onto a work that might not have been intended. I fully accept that there are symbols and there are themes but implying that the whole novel is a metaphor for some great human struggle against an unknowable enemy strikes me as wishful thinking. If that were true, why would Melville waste everybody’s time with endless descriptions of types of whales, Whales Through History and the rope used on whaling ships? All of which isn’t to mention the philosophical diversions into the nobility of whaling as a life calling. I don’t doubt that there are themes to explore if a reader has the inclination (I don’t) but I’m completely failing to grasp the Higher Meaning amongst the whale heads.
We’ve been rewatching Parks and Recreation recently because it’s bloody brilliant and this came up in a rather timely manner:
I hear ya, Ron.
4) So apparently people can get stuck inside a whale’s head and nearly drown. Please inform me exactly how you intend to read this book to your children as a bedtime story?
How awful was that?! Good heavens. Just being in a whale head at all sounds horrific to me but getting stuck in there and dragged into the depths of the sea?! Words can not express how awful I find that thought. I love my potential future children too much to subject them to this book. I’d read them the first couple of weeks’ chapters maybe so that they can learn about tolerance and then I’d play “1, 2, skip a few, 99, 100” to get to the end. “Once there was a man named Ishmael. He made friends with a man named Queequeg. They went on a boat trip. The End.”
I mean, really, what was Miss Honey THINKING letting Matilda pick this up?!